I have a unique perspective among American farm wives since I was born and raised as an Assyrian living in Teheran, Iran. I came to Wyoming as a student but fell in love with a farmer and have spent my life making a living from and raising my family on the land that we love.
Farming can be a risky business, which my husband and I have learned first hand since we began farming together in 1989. The risks that we face generally come from Mother Nature – drought, floods, pests or hail – so there’s only so much you can do to manage your risk. And that is why we have purchased crop insurance every year since we first bought our farm.
Crop insurance is no small expense for us or other Wyoming farmers, but it’s the best risk management tool in town. Last year, Wyoming farmers purchased over 2,500 crop insurance policies costing farmers more than $8 million out of their own back pockets. Nationally, farmers have spent more than $38 billion of their own money purchasing crop insurance policies since 2000.
Crop insurance not only helps you sleep better at night, but it’s a smart business decision, even though on most years we don’t collect a dime. But on those years when disaster strikes, farmers who haven’t purchased the protection of crop insurance could be facing a very gloomy future.
Last year, for example, we were hit with not one but four major hailstorms, which struck right when the plants were the most vulnerable. The leaves of area dry edible bean and sugarbeet plants were torn and tattered, which staunches their development.
In the past, before crop insurance became widely affordable, Wyoming farmers would have turned to the federal government for disaster assistance. But since roughly 90 percent of planted cropland was protected by crop insurance in 2013, farmers turned to their crop insurance agents, not the federal government, for help.
And unlike assistance from the federal government that can be agonizingly slow in arriving, crop insurance checks usually come within weeks or a month of completing the paperwork. That is one reason why it is so popular among farmers who have faced disaster, like us.
The passage of the 2014 Farm Bill placed crop insurance as the centerpiece of the new farm risk management strategy. Crop insurance is a public/private partnership whereby the federal government discounts a portion of a farmer’s crop insurance premium to ensure that it is widely purchased, and 19 participating crop insurance companies sell and service the claims.
Banks do not always require crop insurance, but they certainly feel better making loans to farmers who have purchased it. Why? Because bankers like to know that if disaster strikes, that some of the money they loaned will be coming back to them.
Crop insurance, like other public policies, has its detractors. Among them are those who say that farmers would rather collect a crop insurance check than raise a crop. That’s simply not true. With the high cost of farm inputs, including seed, fertilizer, fuel, labor and overhead, there is no way that you could collect enough insurance every year to cover your expenses, much less live on.
A farm simply could not float by collecting on crop insurance claims, and anyone who has any understanding of agriculture should know that.
Coming from a different nation, I also see a value of crop insurance that might not be readily apparent to some Americans. Farmers are a major economic force in rural America, pumping billions of dollars into the rural economy – purchasing fuel, equipment, storage building and paying farmhands – while producing the food, fiber and fuel this nation needs. Believe me, Americans really would not want to be reliant on other nations for our food security.
When we lose our food security, next will come our independence. And none of us want to lose that.
Klodette and Rick Stroh farm 1,800 acres near Powell, Wyo. Klodette is also a member of Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE).
This op-ed appeared in the Prairie Star on July 17, 2014.