My farm has been in my family since the mid-1800s. I have seen firsthand how farming has changed over the decades. It is certainly more expensive to farm than when my parents and grandparents and great-great grandparents farmed the land, but one thing hasn’t changed in more than 150 years: farming is an unpredictable business.
Farmers can’t predict the future, but we can make a genuine effort to be smart, informed business owners. We try to make the right decisions and work with what we have. The problem is when ‘what we have to work with’ is ripped out from underneath us. Without crop insurance, many farmers wouldn’t be able to keep farming. Cutting crop insurance would be pulling the rug from underneath agriculture.
Before the modern day crop insurance system, farmers relied on ad hoc disaster relief payments. This was a costly and unpredictable option for all of us – the government, the taxpayer and the farmer, who in some cases may have received a payment too late to avoid bankruptcy.
Congress agreed that crop insurance was the best risk management tool for farmers. In the 2014 Farm Bill, they implemented a crop insurance system that ensured farmers would have access to affordable crop insurance while removing the risk from the taxpayer. In stride, farmers have made operating decisions with the assumption that all the policies of this bill would be in place until the Farm Bill expires in 2018.
Now, in 2015, this proven risk management tool, crop insurance, is in front of the firing squad. I’m not certain why some Members of Congress are willing to turn their backs on farmers now. Washington is nearly 900 miles away from my family farm. From that distance, it may be easy to assume that cuts to farm programs, like crop insurance, would have no effect on farmers, but that’s not an accurate picture.
Crop insurance is the only safety net that most farmers have anymore. Nearly all the cropland in the United States is protected by crop insurance. In Wisconsin, a majority of crop acres are insured, including grain commodities and specialty crops.
Insurance not only allows farmers to face natural disasters and damaging production years without losing everything, but it provides assurance that we can make payments to our banks. The same way any person in this country cannot get a house loan or a car loan without proof of insurance, agricultural banks want the guarantee that farmers can make their payments.
The agriculture economy is struggling. Farm income continues to decline, crop prices are down and inputs continue to rise. The 2015-16 farm year may be a make or break year for many farmers who are ending the year in the red. Forty years ago, a farmer could lose a crop one year and still farm the next. Nowadays one crop loss could end someone’s farming career. In the current state of agriculture, we can’t afford to have another leg chopped off our stool that’s already leaning.
My wife and I have risked our livelihood to maintain the farm for our children and grandchildren, just as my parents and grandparents did for us. Without crop insurance, we would have to quit farming. For the events we can’t predict, crop insurance ensures we won’t lose our multi-generational family farm.
Darrell Crapp is a farmer from Lancaster, Wisconsin. He farms in partnership with his two sons. This op-ed appeared in the Prairie du Chien Courier Press on January 20, 2016.