Devon Yurosek, Kern County, California

Devon Yurosek, Kern County, California

Devon Yurosek grows pistachios, pomegranates, cherries, citrus, and almonds with his dad and brother on the farm his grandfather started three decades ago.

Located in Kern County, California, in the central San Joaquin Valley, he and hundreds of other farmers grow some of the best citrus and tree nut crops in the world.  In 2017, Kern County was ranked as the top agriculture-producing county in the United States. They also have dairy operations, grow feed for cattle, and produce a large variety of fruits and vegetables.

But growing crops in this part of California, which averages only seven inches of rainfall a year, can be challenging. And that’s why this third-generation farmer buys crop insurance, just like his dad and grandfather did before him.

“In good years we never look to get any money from crop insurance.  It’s the bad years we are looking to cover,” Yurosek said.

Crops grown in this fertile valley can yield high profit when rain is ample and the winter is cool enough to produce adequate chill hours for the trees.  When that doesn’t happen and there isn’t a crop to harvest, money becomes tight.

“We only get one shot at making money because we only get one crop each year,” he said.  “We’d have no way to recoup some of our costs if we didn’t have crop insurance.”

Yurosek only remembers a handful of times when they’ve had to file a claim.  And he’s thankful for that.

“If we have to make a claim that means we aren’t profitable as a business,” he said. “We can be a lot more financially stable taking a crop to harvest than we can with a check from the insurance company.”

The Yuroseks aren’t the only family who relies on the success of the farm.  The farm employs several full-time workers because the labor to care for the crops and take them to harvest is so high.

“We try to take care of our employees, but that’s difficult to do if you don’t have a crop on the trees” he said. “That’s where crop insurance has been a huge help to us.”

The trickle-down effect of agriculture in Kern County is obvious when you drive through the small towns located there.  Agriculture surrounds them.  There are implement dealers, seed and fertilizer businesses, packing houses, and mechanics, just to name a few.  One out of every five jobs is either directly or indirectly related to this $7 billion industry.

“Our employees spend a lot of money in this county,” said Yurosek. “And we do, too.  There are a lot of vendors who aren’t associated with agriculture who provide us with goods and services.  We need paper and supplies for our office.  Furniture for our homes. And that puts a lot of money back into the local economy.”

Farming isn’t the easiest of occupations no matter where you live. Mother Nature can throw a lot of curve balls.  World markets effect the price you receive for the commodities you grow.  And input costs seem to rise whether prices go up or down.  Yurosek says he pays 20 percent more in labor costs and 300 times more for water than he did just a few years ago.

But while the challenges can be overwhelming at times, Yurosek says he can’t image doing anything else.

“I’m incredibly fortunate to be part of a family farming operation,” he said. “It’s a business that means more than just making money.  It’s about providing jobs and providing healthy, beneficial food for the world, but especially for the United States.”

Vern and Shelley Williams, Medical Lake, Washington

Vern and Shelley Williams, Medical Lake, Washington

It was a sunny, warm July morning in Northeast Washington.  Vern Williams was just days away from harvesting his golden wheat crop.

“We should start harvesting next week,” Vern said.  “I am praying really hard we don’t have a hailstorm between now and then.  This is my best crop in a really long time.”

The Williams farm is located about 16 miles southwest of Spokane, near Medical Lake, in some of the best cropland in the country.  As you drive through the rolling hills and valleys of Spokane County, all you see for miles and miles is wheat stalks swaying in the wind.

Vern has been farming since 1970, and it’s all he’s ever wanted to do. His great grandfather, grandfather, and father were all farmers before him.

“I wanted to farm after high school but couldn’t, so I went to college and learned how to be a diesel mechanic.”

A few years later, Vern would finally get his chance to farm.  A local farmer told him if he worked hard, he would some day lease him the land.

“I did it.  I stuck with him through thick and thin,” Vern said with just a little pride in his voice.

Vern raises wheat, hay, and sometimes barley. He also has a few cattle.

Vern’s wife, Shelley, works off the farm in Spokane, but there is no doubt she is an important partner in the Williams farm.  Both are soft-spoken, but were adamant about the need to protect their crops from a bad storm or low prices.

“The fact that if we have a loss, that we wouldn’t lose our livelihood; that’s why we have it.  So we can sleep at night,” Shelley said.

The Williams’ talked about the year a bad storm came through their farm and hail wiped out their entire crop.

“I remember my first reaction when looking at the acres and there was nothing left was ‘oh my god’,” said Shelley.  “But then you remember you’ve got insurance and the devastation is not nearly what it could be.”

Vern and Shelley are grateful the government provides crop insurance premium discounts.

“Twenty years ago, we didn’t have crop insurance.  And I don’t know why,” Shelley said looking at Vern for the answer.

“I do.  It was too expensive,” Vern replied.

Both agreed they wouldn’t still be farming without the premium support.

It isn’t hard to see Vern’s commitment to his profession when you visit the farm.  He isn’t farming thousands of acres and doesn’t have brand new equipment.  But he is doing what he loves.  And his wheat crop that summer reflected his determination to be the best farmer he can be.

“We farm for broke every year,” Vern said.  “We want to get the best crop we can every year.  If something comes up and crop insurance has to help you, that’s fine.  But that isn’t why I farm.”

Shelley agreed.  “If we need to use crop insurance it’s because something happened that’s completely out of our control.  You can do everything you are supposed to do as a farmer and still have a disaster through absolutely no fault of your own.”

Mike Abbott, Davenport, Washington

Mike Abbott, Davenport, Washington

Mike Abbott If you’ve ever traveled in central and eastern Washington in the summer, you couldn’t miss seeing the vast wheat fields that seem to go on for miles and miles. Washington farmers planted just over 2.2 million acres of winter and spring wheat in 2016. And more than 90 percent of that wheat was protected by crop insurance.

Mike Abbott grew up on a family farm just north of Davenport, Washington, and now farms with his brother in the areas of Davenport and Harrington. They grow wheat and barley and understand first hand why buying crop insurance is so important.

“Crop insurance gives us a security blanket in bad years,” Abbott said.

2015 was not a good year for the Abbotts or any farmer in Washington. An unusual drought affected the state and farms lost more than $335 million in agricultural outputs. The brothers relied on crop insurance for their loss.

“I’d rather not collect crop insurance to be honest with you,” Abbott said. “It’s nice to have, but if there are any critics out there, I’d say take one year in my shoes—on a bad year—and we will see if you like crop insurance, because it has saved most of the farmers out here the past two years.”

Abbott understands and appreciates the government support for crop insurance, which keeps farmers in business and taxpayers off the hook completely when a natural disaster hits.

“The premium [support] that taxpayers pay is very important. On low years—low [harvest] and low commodity price years—anything helps us.”

Mike feels strongly about the importance of agriculture in the United States and keeping the next generation on the farm.

“I have three kids; my son is a junior at the University of Idaho, taking Ag Business. He wants to come back to the farm someday, as well as my brother’s kids. So, it’s important to keep the family farm in business.”

Farmers like Mike and his brother all across the state help support the rural areas where they live.

“Agriculture is very important to the economy around Davenport, Harrington, and all of the small towns,” Abbott said. “It supports the community and without agriculture, the towns would probably [disappear].”

Stanley Wilson, Shafter, California

Stanley Wilson, Shafter, California

Almost 100 years ago Stanley Wilson’s ancestors settled in Shafter, California to start their family farm. Since then, the farm has been passed down to Wilson who continues to farm to this very day with the help of his two sons, a son-in-law and several grandchildren. Their operation produces cotton, potatoes, carrots, beans, alfalfa, almonds and raisin grapes.

Knowing the ins and outs of farming, like the back of his hand, Wilson said he chooses to purchase crop insurance so he can properly protect his crops and operation from unexpected perils.

“Crop insurance gives us a bottom line protection, in the case of various farm disasters,” Wilson said. “Anyone who has been in farming knows production is not consistent. Many times we have problems caused by climate, insects or diseases, and we need protection against those things to (prevent) a complete wipeout. Just something to give us a bottom line so we can go another year.”

Due to the protection crop insurance can provide, Wilson can sleep easier knowing if a disaster hits, he’ll be able to farm the following year. With the expense that farming can cost producers, Wilson said he is grateful crop insurance can help in times of need.

“Farming is a very expensive operation compared to what it was when I first started farming,” Wilson explained. “We’re looking at costs 10 times what they were 50 years ago… And so the protection we get from crop insurance is very important.”

Another point Wilson made was that crop insurance can be timelier than governmental alternatives and this aspect is what keeps farming operations, including his own, in business after a natural disaster or economic hardship.

“You don’t wait for Congress to enact legislation when you have an emergency because it takes them years (to act),” Wilson stated. “A good example of that is they have done nothing with passing any legislation to help the California drought and we’re in our fourth year of that. Maybe four years down the road, after we get flooded, they’ll think about actually enacting something. So you have to have something in place if you’re trying to protect from disasters.”

Wilson concluded that in his case there are “not any more crop subsidy payments” through the Federal government so crop insurance is the only way the government is really helping his farm. And as long as Wilson can keep his operation protected and in business, he said he is happy.

“Even though I am of retirement age, farmers never seem to be able to quit farming because they love doing it,” Wilson expressed. “And I want to see my kids continue doing what I have enjoyed all these years.”

Kenneth Kirschenmann, Shafter, California

Kenneth Kirschenmann, Shafter, California

Shafter, California is home to 17,197 people and Shafter native, Kenneth Kirschenmann, said that farming is what keeps his community economically sound. Listing just a few ways farming helps his community, Kirschenmann said, “We affect companies that employ a lot of people. We affect the railroad who hauls our products to the East Coast (and the) trucking companies that handle our grapes.”

Originally established in 1919 by his grandfather, Kirschenmann’s family farm has since grown into what is known as the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company. Kirschenmann said the company has expanded to cover almost 1,000 acres and now produces table grapes, potatoes, cotton, almonds and alfalfa. As Kirschenmann gave National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) a tour of his vineyard, he reflected on the importance of Mother Nature, as well as crop insurance to keep his farm operational.

“This is a Mother Nature crop,” Kirschenmann stated. “The good Lord gives us everything we’ve got to do to make the grapes. But we also have some untimely storms, rains, freezes, and frosts that can destroy these crops. Crop insurance gives us a little safety net. It doesn’t solve all the problems if we had a 100 percent wipeout, but it does keep us in business.”

According to Kirschenmann, the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company employs over 250 individuals throughout the year. All of whom take pride in providing consumers with a quality product at the prices they can afford.

“We take endless amounts of joy in our work and day-to-day things to give consumers that table grape, or that cotton plant, or that potato, or that almond,” Kirschenmann said. “All the right things that it takes to get to the consumers’ shelves, wherever the end product is; and the least expensive for them also.”

While Kirschenmann enjoys providing consumers with the food and materials he produces on farm, he stated that his farming operation, like others all over the country, has experienced some untimely losses.

“Our input costs are high because of the drought in California,” Kirschenmann said. “Labor is getting to be an issue we are dealing with. So we’re trying to fight all the costs and crop insurance is a very economical thing that we look at on a monthly or yearly basis when we do our crop plans and our financial plans.”

Whether the community is experiencing a drought or a frost, crop insurance helps keep the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company and other farming operations in the community up and running. Kirschenmann restated that in the end, in order to keep Shafter farming, crop insurance is a must.

“We’ve got to keep a good, strong crop insurance program going,” Kirschenmann concluded. “We need it. We have a great relationship with our crop insurance people. We’ve been through some disasters and the system has worked…I know insurance can’t handle every issue and I’m not asking it to. But rain and frost, those are the things that I buy the insurance for.”

Crop Insurance: Cost Sharing

Crop Insurance: Cost Sharing

Crop insurance is a unique public/private partnership where taxpayers, farmers, and private insurance companies all share in the risk.

The Haight Agency

Father & Son Carry on Farming Tradition

Don and Beau Van Winkle are second and third generation apple and cherry growers in Wenatchee, Washington. “We buy insurance because, if we have a bad year, it gives us a chance to keep farming.”

“This is my livelihood. I love it!”

George Struthers farms 9,000 acres of wheat in the south central part of Washington. Crop insurance is very important to him as he farms land that has been in his family for generations.

Advance Marketing Pays Off

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Richard Selover, Colusa, California

richard selover california 2014California is the nation’s number one agriculture state and has been for more than 50 years, growing more than half of the nation’s fruits, vegetables, and nuts.  We paid a visit to Richard Selover, a farmer in Colusa, CA, a small farming community in Northern California, approximately 75 miles north of Sacramento, to find out why crop insurance is important to his farming operation.

According to Selover, the city of Calusa represents about 80% of the gross product for the County of Calusa.  The top commodities for the county include rice, tomatoes, almonds, and walnuts.  The county also has a fair amount of cattle.

Selover grows rice, almonds, walnuts, wheat, and beans and has counted on crop insurance consecutively for the last 10 years.  “We have used crop insurance to level out the perils throughout the years.”  He says that crop insurance offers stability to his farm income, just like any other line of insurance you would purchase to protect your risks.

During our conversation, he explained how crop insurance protects against issues like late spring rains that cause excess moisture at planting time extending planting dates, late frost, and hailstorms.  “Rice has a fairly long growing season, so we have to be careful not to get into the fall range, which can come in early and catch us on that side.”  He went on to say “Over the years [crop insurance] has leveled out the playing field so we don’t have big income swings.”

According to University of California Cooperative Extension, rice is one of Calusa County’s major commodities, with approximately 500,000 acers planted yearly.  Selover said “There is a lot of milling capacity here for rice, it’s a medium grain rice that’s shipped all over the world.”  Further stating that “California is famous for their special rice varieties.”

When we asked him about the Environmental Working Group accusing farmers of “praying for drought, not praying for rain,” Selover replied, “We are in a drought right now, and NOBODY is praying for it. This is probably going to be, depending on how this pans out, economically devastating to our community that has been here for almost 200 years.”

To sum it all up, Selover states, “Not too many people profit from an insurance policy.  All it does is protect you from the unexpected.”

In 2015, Federal Crop Insurance protected $8.8 billion of liability on growing crops in California.  There were 5.8 million acres insured and more than $537 million was paid to farmers in indemnities for production and/or revenue losses. The private crop-hail insurance product provided an additional $37 million in liability protection.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Matt Fisher, Delano, California

matt fisher

Imagine overseeing a multi-generational family farm without crop insurance. When disaster strikes will your farm be able to financially bounce back? This possibility became a reality for one family in Delano, California. And after disaster struck, Matt Fisher said he and his family learned the true value of crop insurance.

“Back in 1990-1991, our family didn’t have crop insurance,” Fisher explained. “And we had a disastrous freeze that wiped out everything we had, and the next year’s crop. We even lost some trees it got so cold. Our family operation almost went broke at that time, but we were able to fight our way back to profitability. And now we buy crop insurance because of that one lesson and experience.”

Today, Fisher’s farm produces a wide variety of citrus, including navels, Valencias, blood oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and lemons. To protect their fruit from the unpredictability of Mother Nature, Fisher said it is vital that they continue to purchase crop insurance year after year to ensure they do not have a repeat of what happened in 1991.

“When I say protection, we’re not getting rich on the crop insurance,” Fisher elaborated. “It’s merely covering our costs and allowing us to get to the next year. So it’s very, very important in what we do.”

Fisher not only has a family of four to worry about feeding, but his operation also employs more than 40 full-time individuals who have families of their own to feed. He added that their farm indirectly, through farm labor contractors and harvest crews, employ another 100-125 individuals to keep their operation up and going.

“That’s not counting the chemical industries,” Fisher stated. “We’re using fertilizers, pesticides to keep the bugs down on the trees, etc. And even the packing houses employ hundreds, if not thousands of people. So if we did not have crop insurance and we were not able to make it and keep going from one year to the next, it would be a major economic hit for the industry. The ag industry as a whole, not just counting the citrus industry.”

Having started out as a small farming operation, Fisher understands the value of farms of all sizes. According to Fisher, their original operation began with just 30 acres and he attributes their expansion to the hard work of four generations.

“We are fortunate enough to grow in volume, to help supply the world with food,” Fisher explained. “And good quality food. If we didn’t have crop insurance, and if it wasn’t as affordable as it is, it drives our costs up and we’re no longer competitive.”

No matter the size of their farm or the products they are growing, Fisher also wants the public to know his family’s operation has not changed the way they conduct their business due to the purchasing of crop insurance. At the end of the day, good farming practices have to be completed and hard work has to be put forth to help feed a growing population.

“Crop insurance strictly protects you from devastation,” Fisher concluded. “And we still have to get up and run our wind machines. We spend a tremendous amount of money on frost protection. We’re running wind machines, running water, (putting forth) labor…we never stop fighting this cold weather because even if you think you’ve lost the battle, in the middle of it, you have to keep going. We are so much better off trying to save our fruit and take it to market than we are just relying on crop insurance.”

Steve Murray, Arvin, California

Frozen Cherries

Steve Murray is a fifth generation farmer in California’s Central Valley, located in Arvin, just east of Bakersfield. Murray explained that this portion of the United States is the most productive fruit and vegetable farmland in the world, as well as one of the earliest farming districts. These factors help his business, Murray Family Farms, thrive, selling over 200 varieties of fruit.

“Half of that fruit is cherries,” Murray explained. “So cherries are a commercial crop for us that we grow for wholesale business and then all of the other crops we grow for direct market. We have two roadside stands and we go to 25 different farmers markets.”

Due to the large amounts of cherries his operation produces, Murray expressed he is comforted by the fact his business is protected with the number one farm safety net, crop insurance. Having had personal experience with unexpected disasters affecting his farm, he said he understands the benefits of crop insurance first-hand.

“The crop insurance we have on our cherries has really been critical for our survival and our ability to operate,” Murray stated. “We started growing cherries back in 1989 and in 2006 we had a statewide freeze. I went to a cherry meeting up in Stockton and it was a 4 ½ hour drive. The thermometer was at 19 degrees the whole way. Normally in February, you think the buds would close and be protected. But the 19 degrees froze the flowers and the buds and there was a statewide disaster. We had a block of cherries that historically has produced about $1.5 million and that year it dropped down to $90,000.”

steve murray 2At that given time crop insurance for cherries was not offered in the area where Murray Family Farms is located. Murray said he lost a bank in the process, received a loan from another bank and relied on help from the FSA to barely stay afloat.

“Once I was able to get crop insurance, I was able to get financing,” Murray said. “We went six years without any agricultural loans, which is hard to cash flow a crop that comes in once a year and be able to survive. So with crop insurance, it has allowed us to be able to have a floor. Whereas before, we had no floor.”

Murray expressed that a second freeze without crop insurance would ultimately put him and his farms out of business.

“With crop insurance it’s a decision that you have to make, that anybody in business, they know that most good businesses make maybe a 10 percent net margin off of their gross and, for us and our cherry crop insurance it costs us about eight percent of our gross,” Murray added. “But it is the thing that allows us to survive.”

Putting the importance of crop insurance in perspective, Murray explained that food is an important commodity to the United States and that one farm affects more than just one business owner.

“Farmers are one of the few producers,” Murray said. “Food is one of the only exports this country has where we export more than we import. And if you take a look at this valley we’re in, half of all of the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States are grown in this valley. In our operation, when we had the disaster, we diversified after that. And part of that diversification was going into direct market with the roadside stands and the fruit stands. If we were just growing mono crops, we would have maybe six employees working on the farm, but because of our diversification we have 80 employees today. So there’s 80 families that are getting the subsistence.”

According to Murray, half of all the jobs in his county are “interrelated in agriculture.” This translates into 175,000 jobs in one county alone. Murray stated that these positions are directly affected by natural disasters and economic hardships, such as the current California drought which is why crop insurance is of great importance to the agricultural industry.

“We’re coming off probably the worst production year we’ve had,” Murray concluded. “We had a 90 percent crop loss this year. It is my crop insurance this year that is going to allow me to survive. Without it, I’d just be done. The diversity of the farming operation we have would be converted to almonds and there would be six employees instead of 80.”

Crop Insurance in Action: Kenneth Kirschenmann, Shafter, California

GrapesShafter, California is home to 17,197 people and Shafter native, Kenneth Kirschenmann, said that farming is what keeps his community economically sound. Listing just a few ways farming helps his community, Kirschenmann said, “We affect chemical companies that employ a lot of people. We affect the railroad who hauls our products to the East Coast (and the) trucking companies that handle our grapes.”

Originally established in 1919 by his grandfather, Kenneth’s family farm has since grown into what is now known as the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company. He said the company has expanded to cover almost 1,000 acres and now produces table grapes, potatoes, cotton, almonds and alfalfa. As Kirschenmann gave National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) a tour of his grape vineyard, he reflected on the importance of Mother Nature, as well as crop insurance to keep his harvests growing.

“This is a Mother Nature crop,” Kirschenmann stated. “The good Lord gives us everything we’ve got to do to make the grapes. But we also have some untimely storms, rains, freezes and frost that can destroy these crops. Crop insurance gives us a little safety net. It doesn’t solve all the problems if we had a 100 percent wipeout, but it does keep us in business.”

Kirschenmann’s company employs over 250 individuals throughout the year. All of which take pride in providing consumers with a quality product at the prices they can afford.

“We take endless amounts of joy in our work and day-to-day things to give consumers that table grape, or that cotton plant, or that potato, or that almond,” Kirschenmann said. “All the right things that it takes to get to the consumers’ shelves, wherever the end product is; and the least expensive for them also.”

Ken KirschenmannWhile Kirschenmann enjoys providing consumers with the food and materials he produces, he said that his farming operation, like other farms all over the country, has experienced some untimely weather events.

“Our input costs are high because of the drought in California,” Kirschenmann said. “Labor is getting to be an issue we are dealing with. So we’re trying to fight all the costs and crop insurance is a very economical thing that we look at on a monthly or yearly basis when we do our crop plans and our financial plans.”

Whether the community is experiencing a drought or a frost, crop insurance helps keep the Kirschenmann Brothers Farming Company and other farming operations in the community up and running. Kirschenmann restated that in the end, in order to keep Shafter farming, crop insurance is a must.

“We’ve got to keep a good, strong crop insurance program going,” Kirschenmann concluded. “We need it. We have a great relationship with our crop insurance people. We’ve been through some disasters and the system has worked. I know insurance can’t handle every issue and I’m not asking it to. But rain and frost, those are the things that I buy the insurance for.”

Crop Insurance in Action: Greg Wegis, Bakersfield, California

Greg Wegis edited 2Greg Wegis’ great-grandfather established their multi-generational farm in the early 1900s and the have been farming in Bakersfield, California ever since. Wegis grows almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, corn, wheat, alfalfa and cherries and he plans to start growing table grapes in the near future.

“I have a passion for what I do,” Wegis said. “Being raised around my grandfather and my dad, just talking about it. It’s a lifestyle; producing food for people to eat and nourish their bodies. It’s a good feeling and an occupation I think that’s very noble.”

Today Wegis’ farm employs 80 people full-time to keep everything running smoothly. Wegis said he prides himself on being a family-oriented business, knowing each one of his employees and their family.

“We take care of our people, because they take care of us,” Wegis said. “They take care of our land and we treat them as an extension of our family. I think that is unique in the multi-generational family farming business; you don’t find that in a lot of other industries.”

Not only does Wegis feel his employees deserve credit for the hard work they provide, but he further recognized that his farming operation wouldn’t be possible without all of the supporting companies that aid them in their day-to-day operations. This includes companies who help with tractor and machinery parts, processing and manufacturing, sales, bankers, insurance agents, fuel, transportation companies and “the list goes on and on.”

According to Wegis, farm income in California is a $47 billion industry. The county he resides in, Kern County, is responsible for providing a little over $6 billion.  Translating that into the amount of jobs agriculture provides within Kern County, Wegis said it’s “somewhere around 70,000 jobs.”

“Just the almond industry alone, employs about 110,000 individuals in the Central Valley,” Wegis explained. “And we’re connected. So whatever happens to us, in turn affects them, either in food prices or food availability.”

Minus a great winter in 2002 and 2011, the area Wegis resides in has been in a drought for over four years. To combat this issue, Wegis said their farming operations rely on two separate solutions to stay sustainable and in business.

“With our farm, we have around 10,000 acre-feet of water that we’ve contracted for. My grandfather and his generation helped build the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, (bringing) us water from Northern California to help us be more sustainable south of the Delta Area.”

In order to take part in the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, farmers in the California region must pay a set amount of money regardless if they receive the designated amount of water or not (water supply levels rely on what is available each year in the area’s designated reservoir, which could lead to the possible shortages). By doing this, Wegis said it has helped “replenish the aquifers” that were once depleted and helps keep farms in the region sustainable.

“We’re the breadbasket of the world here in Central Valley, as far as fruits, vegetables, nuts and milk,” Wegis concluded. “The United States relies heavily on us to produce that food. If we have to reduce our footprint, we cannot farm the acres we used to, and that’s definitely going to affect everyone. And that’s the message we’re trying to [get] everybody [to] understand.”

Wegis said he insures their crops to protect them against natural disasters, diseases or insects that they have little control over. “Without crop insurance it would not allow us to farm.” In the end, Wegis attributes crop insurance as a vital tool in agricultural risk management. “It’s just a crucial tool to circumvent the ups and downs of Mother Nature and agriculture,” Wegis expressed.

Crop Insurance in Action: Stanley Wilson, Shafter, California

stanley wilsonAlmost 100 years ago Stanley Wilson’s ancestors settled in Shafter, California to start their family farm. Since then, the farm has been passed down to Wilson who continues to farm to this very day with the help of his two sons, a son-in-law and several grandchildren. Their operation produces cotton, potatoes, carrots, beans, alfalfa, almonds and raisin grapes.

Knowing the ins and outs of farming, like the back of his hand, Wilson said he chooses to purchase crop insurance so he can properly protect his crops and operation from unexpected perils.

“Crop insurance gives us a bottom line protection, in the case of various farm disasters,” Wilson said. “Anyone who has been in farming knows production is not consistent. Many times we have problems caused by climate, insects or diseases, and we need protection against those things to (prevent) a complete wipeout. Just something to give us a bottom line so we can go another year.”

Due to the protection crop insurance can provide, Wilson can sleep easier knowing if a disaster hits, he’ll be able to farm the following year. With the expense that farming can cost producers, Wilson said he is grateful crop insurance can help in times of need.

“Farming is a very expensive operation compared to what it was when I first started farming,” Wilson explained. “We’re looking at costs 10 times what they were 50 years ago… And so the protection we get from crop insurance is very important.”

Another point Wilson made was that crop insurance can be timelier than governmental alternatives and this aspect is what keeps farming operations, including his own, in business after a natural disaster or economic hardship.

“You don’t wait for Congress to enact legislation when you have an emergency because it takes them years (to act),” Wilson stated. “A good example of that is they have done nothing with passing any legislation to help the California drought and we’re in our fourth year of that. Maybe four years down the road, after we get flooded, they’ll think about actually enacting something. So you have to have something in place if you’re trying to protect from disasters.”

Wilson concluded that in his case there are “not any more crop subsidy payments” through the Federal government so crop insurance is the only way the government is really helping his farm. And as long as Wilson can keep his operation protected and in business, he said he is happy.

“Even though I am of retirement age, farmers never seem to be able to quit farming because they love doing it,” Wilson expressed. “And I want to see my kids continue doing what I have enjoyed all these years.”

Crop Insurance in Action: Todd Snider, Crop Insurance Agent with Personal Ag Management Services LLC.

Crop Insurance in Action: Todd Snider

Todd Snider works as a crop insurance agent at Personal Ag Management Services LLC., in Bakersfield, California, and has been working hard to provide crop insurance to farmers in California’s Central Valley for more than 13 years. According to Snider, the two main industries within his county are agriculture and oil.

“There are about 170,000 jobs that are directly related to agriculture in Kern County,” Snider said. “And I would say that’s probably multiplied eight times with all the support industry personnel that come into place, whether you’re a fertilizer salesman, crop insurance, tractors, fuel, parts and on down the line. Even the clothing we wear are made of commodities grown down here in the Central Valley.”

Snider added that a lot of the crops grown in California are categorized as specialty crops, which are not the “average soybeans, corn or wheat.” He noted that specialty growers have much higher inputs than more common crops do and due to the higher inputs, and unpredictability of weather, as well as economic circumstances, crop insurance is something worth budgeting for.

“It’s a lot harder to budget for a zero revenue if you have a severe situation,” Snider said. “With crop insurance at least you know your worst case scenario. You know if you had a freeze that you’d be able to at least cover your costs, pay your employees and keep them employed for the next coming season.”

Another aspect Snider noted is that farmers are competing for labor. If a disaster strikes and the producer cannot pay his employees, it is likely that they will move on to an employer who can. This being said, crop insurance not only helps support the farmer’s crops but it also helps support the entire farming operation.

Within his position, Snider is able to see “the growers protect their legacy and pass it on to the next generation.” One of Snider’s favorite parts about being a crop insurance agent is having the chance to work with a grandfather or father and seeing them pass the family farm onto their next of kin.

“I want to be working with that next generation,” Snider conveyed. “I don’t want to see it be passed to an overseas corporation that can come in and buy out the property just as an investment tool and then move out of it if it’s not a good investment for them. I want to see it stay as a family generational farm.”

Currently, Snider is working alongside other agents to help explain and educate local farmers on Whole Farm Revenue Protection. Snider stated that if a farmer is unaware or not educated on policies that are available to them, they will be less likely to participate in something that could really benefit them and their farm.

“We do our best to interpret the information that is given to us,” Snider added. “And we do our best to educate the grower.”

Putting the concept of crop insurance into simpler terms, Snider explained that insurance as a whole is a “pool.” He referenced homeowners insurance to best explain the importance. Snider stressed that whether you own a large or small house, both houses still need to be insured. “Maybe you have 20 small homes in a flood area that get wiped out and 10 large homes that are up on the mountainside. If you allow just the small homes to be insured, then there wouldn’t be enough money in the pool to pay for those houses wiped out in the flood. We need the money from the large homes (as well); we need that premium in the pool to pay for losses. Maybe the next year you have the large homes that are wiped out by a landslide on top of the side of the hill.”

After explaining this analogy, Snider applied this back to insuring our nation’s crops. “We need to have a pool of money from large farms and small farms. These growers are contributing this money into the pool and they might go 10 years without a loss. The Midwest may have a loss and then two years later the West Coast, California specialty crop growers might suffer a loss or a drought. We need to have some sort of premiums paid by both types of growers, small and large.”

Snider further added that, “we shouldn’t discriminate against a large farmer for being successful or discriminate against a small farmer for deciding to be a small family farm. Just because you have 1,000 acres or 100 acres doesn’t mean you’re any different. I think it’s economies of scale and some commodities you have to have more acreage to earn a living.”

In the end, Snider said he only wants the best for his county. “As you can tell I’m passionate about agriculture. I’m a Farm Bureau board member as well, here in Kern County. I just want to keep Kern County in the ag industry. I want to keep Kern County competitive. Hopefully it rains for us and we don’t have to talk about the drought long-term, and we can get some more water storage, and we can get back to the hay-day of agriculture.”

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: John Michael Pillow, Yazoo City, Mississippi

John Michael Pillow.jpgJohn Michael Pillow is a fourth generation Mississippi farmer and spent the first part of his career managing his family’s farm.  In 2011, Pillow decided to strike out on his own and become a full-time farmer.

“Most of the 3,500 acres I planted that year were in corn, which is a crop whereby most of the cost is right up front,” he says.  By the time the entire field was planted, Pillow estimates he had not only his family’s future invested in the crop, but also  $2.5 million that he had borrowed from the bank to put the crop in.

“2011 started out exceptionally dry for us, and by mid-summer, the crop was already starting to show the signs of drought stress,” said Pillow.  But then Pillow’s luck changed drastically as the drought was broken by rain.  And then more rain, and then some more rain.

And although Pillow’s farm and homestead are protected by a sophisticated levee system, the levees simply weren’t high enough to accommodate the unending downpours.   “Before I knew it, the Yazoo River was knocking on my front door.”

At that point, Pillow suddenly realized the value of crop insurance, and why it was worth buying every year.  “Crop insurance, for me, not only proved to be essential, it’s the reason I’m in business today,” he said.

Just as luck would have it, Pillow’s crop insurance agent had approached him at the beginning of the crop year prior to discuss various high-loss scenarios with him.  “Out of the blue, my crop insurance agent floated the worst-case scenario by me about how well I’d handle a crop loss of 80 to 85 percent,” recalls Pillow.  “I told him that a loss that high was simply inconceivable, that it would never happen.”

But Pillow notes that, given the fact that this was his first year of farming on his own, and that he would require a $2.5 million operating loan from the local bank to put his crop in the ground, he decided the prudent thing to do would be to plan for the worst.

“I had to cut a check in excess of $60,000 in February to purchase the level of coverage the agent suggested for a level of loss that I didn’t really believe was possible,” he recalls.

And then it happened.  Roughly three months after writing that check, the Yazoo River had spilled over its banks and most of Pillow’s farm was underwater.

“I lost 80 to 85 percent of my crop that year,” said Pillow.  “And to add insult to injury, after the waters receded, although most of the corn was completely washed away, the corn that was left had been severely damaged by drought,” he said.

Pillow said that just like car insurance, crop insurance gives you a degree of stability in times of disaster.  “If you wreck your car, the insurance will replace it and you can still go to work the next day,” he says.  “Why would you not have insurance on your food source, since it’s the most important thing we have?”

Pillow notes that through the whole process, his crop insurance agent and company were by his side.  “When I found out that we were going to flood, the first call I made was to my crop insurance agent,” said Pillow.  “He was very reassuring that it would be ok.”

Pillow said that when the flood was at its height, his agent, the adjuster and the supervisor were all on his farm surveying the damage and assuring him that his indemnity check would be on the way so he could bounce back from this.

“Needless to say, I would be doing something else other than what I love besides farming, and I would be repaying the bank for the $2.5 million I borrowed to put the crop in for the rest of my life,” said Pillow.  “In fact, me, my wife and my kids would have been paying the bank back for a generation or more,” he added.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Craig Corbett, Soda Springs, Idaho

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Craig Corbett farms malt and seed barley, along with some wheat on roughly 2,800 acres in Soda Springs, Idaho. Corbett has been farming for more than 30 years and loves what he does for a living. “It’s challenging, it seems like something new pops up every day, and it’s great being in a production-oriented business like farming,” Corbett said.

Corbett explained that when crop insurance first came out, it didn’t work well and many farmers opted not to purchase it.  He said that many commodity organizations and the crop insurance industry have worked over the years with USDA to produce crop insurance products that are effective for producers in different parts of the country, growing vastly different crops.

“It’s hard to have a program that works for one area – like Idaho—while also working for different crops in different areas of the country as well,” Corbett said.   “And the fact that modern crop insurance can do that is a big, big plus.”

Corbett added that while he’s never had a “crop catastrophe,” he has used his policies on a number of occasions, like after going through a really bad hail storm.  “Crop insurance is never going to make you money, but it can keep you from losing your shirt,” he said.

He noted that despite the fact he spends more than $20,000 annually purchasing crop insurance, on most years he doesn’t file a claim. “And every one of those years it was money well spent,” he said.

Corbett said that while he can protect himself against price fluctuations with marketing tools, “the one thing that we can’t have is nothing to sell.”

“If I don’t have anything to market, then I’m done,” he said.   “So if you’re a producer, crop insurance is where you get the most protection for your buck.”

The 2014 Farm Bill made crop insurance the centerpiece of farmers’ risk management tools, and incorporated changes that strengthened crop insurance.  “If the Farm Bill was going to be changed, it needed to change in the direction of helping farmers better manage risk, and the new Farm Bill certainly moved in that direction,” Corbett added.

Crop Insurance In Action: Matthew King, Delaware County, Ohio

Farming in Central Ohio, much like the rest of the traditional corn belt, tends to be a business that’s very even keel.  The soil is great and the climate is just about perfect for growing corn, soybeans and wheat.  Because of this, bushels per acres are fairly predictable from year to year.

“That whole equation was turned on its head in 2012, which was the worst year that I had ever experienced as a farmer and will be forever seared in the minds of those of us who work the land as the Great Drought of 2012,” said farmer Matthew King.   “Thankfully, like me, most farmers here in Central Ohio purchase crop insurance every year.”

King notes that they’ve purchased crop insurance his entire life, as do most farmers he knows.   He says folks who are not involved directly in farming don’t understand the enormous economies of scale – the prices of fertilizer, seed, machinery, labor and herbicide – that must be paid by farmers in order to get a crop in the ground.

“You literally have to lay out tens of thousands of dollars and then pray for good weather, and if that all comes together, you’ve got a bountiful harvest and you’re set for the next year,” he explains.   “If it doesn’t come together, then hopefully you have crop insurance.”

King notes that crop insurance is also no small expense.  “In fact, in 2013, our farming operations crop insurance premium totaled more than my wife’s annual salary as a local school teacher,” he said.

In most years, crop insurance is just a net cost of doing business for us, since we rarely make a claim.  It’s just like homeowner’s insurance in that you don’t insure your home in the hopes that it burns down but rather in the hope that it never burns down.

“That’s why it’s so aggravating that during the 2012 drought, some outside groups opposed to farm policy charged that ‘farmers were praying for drought, not praying for rain,’ implying that we’d rather collect an indemnity check than get a decent harvest,” noted King.   “Let me set the record straight on that one:  I would take a better crop than a crop insurance payment every time, because well-marketed grain can make me far more money than any crop insurance indemnity ever would,” he said.

King notes that during the 2012 drought, farmers in the area talked about how awful things were in their fields, how much their harvest was down due to extreme heat and lack of moisture, but curiously, none of them mentioned the possibility of losing their farms.   “That’s because they had all purchased crop insurance, knowing that if the bottom fell out, they had a backup plan.”

Crop Insurance Must be Available

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Shawn Holladay, Lamesa, Texas

shawn holladay photoShawn Holladay, a fourth-generation cotton farmer from Dawson County, Texas, looks to agriculture as his sole source of income. It’s not a bad argument for wanting the status quo to continue.

Ask one who’s been in farming for decades for his proverbial ‘staying power’ and he will likely tell you farming is a beloved legacy, he has a passion for growing crops that ensure the well-being of Americans, and throw in a bit of spiel about how crop insurance has made it possible for him to survive against nature’s odds.

For 25 years, Holladay has used crop insurance to protect his 6,500-acre farmland in Lamesa—devoted to cotton, some grains and peanuts—and ensure its stability in the face of prolonged drought. Especially vulnerable are farms like his that have been in families for three or four generations.

“My operation could not begin to stand the losses associated with drought and the severe weather without it,” said Holladay, an industry leader and cotton grower who has won the Farm Press/Cotton Foundation High Cotton Award for his conservation and sustainable farming practices. “The current drought would have taken out most, if not all, farms in the area where my operation is located.”

For Holladay, crop insurance has been mostly a budgetary expense. But he religiously takes out a policy year after year to keep his operation viable, especially with the current drought in Texas that has lasted three years and incurred losses for many Texas farmers.

“When our production is up to par we pay premiums and there have been many years when I have received no indemnity,” he said.

But he is also realistic about attitude toward his insurance.

“Crop insurance is established on production levels that are averaged over 10 years. The only cost effective purchase of insurance comes with a deductible of 20-40 percent. When considering the huge increase in input costs the U.S. farmer still has to be able to stand a significant amount of the loss between the actual production and the break-even on the farm. To be able to do this requires an efficient operation,” Holladay explained.

One of the most important things to consider when developing a safety net is the farms that are producing the lion’s share of the goods. “Penalizing your most efficient operations through payment limits and AGI (Adjustment Gross Income) determinations is self-defeating,” he argued.

The safety net aspect of crop insurance is vital for the United States farm industries to compete globally in the face of a volatile world economy.

“Our ability as a country to be self-sufficient in food and fiber is imperative,” he maintained. “The day we are not able to sustain a profitable ag industry will be a shift in our very identity as a country.”

A well-crafted farm bill that provides a cost-effective safety net is essential if the U.S. is serious about keeping its edge in the market.

“Our ability to keep producing the abundant, safe, supply of farm goods is in jeopardy if we don’t consider other countries and what they are doing when it comes to subsidies,” he theorized. “U.S. farmers have increased efficiency and for the most part increased in size to achieve economies of scale.”

For the most part, increased acreage and efficiency are essential to combat slim margins, Holladay said. And such can only be possible in an operation that is secure and thriving.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Art Wiebelhaus, Fordyce, Nebraska

People hear a lot about crop insurance and the fact that U.S. farmers spend $4 billion out of their own pockets to purchase it every year.   One of the greatest praises of our modern crop insurance system is the customer service that farmers receive before, but perhaps more importantly after, they have a loss.   For some farmers, the hours after a major farm disaster can seem like the lowest point in their lives, when their careers seem to be upended and their hopes for a big harvest dashed.

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But quickly after a major loss occurs, crop insurance adjusters are on the scene to meet with the farmers assess the damage.  The crop insurance adjusters are one of the unsung heroes of the farm safety net, since they help ensure that when disaster strikes that help – in the form of a crop insurance indemnity check – is on the way.

Before ever climbing in the truck, crop adjusters are already on the phone making business calls, watching the weather forecast, reading the rain gauge, and checking in with their clients. They spend long days in the office and even longer days out on the road. Right beside the farmer as they walk through their fields, these men and women are at the very heart of why crop insurance is successful.

Art Wiebelhaus is one person in particular who exemplifies just what it takes to be a crop adjuster. He recognizes the commitment crop production takes, the need crop insurance fulfills, and the lifestyle agriculture holds. From his understandings, Art utilizes a dynamic relationship between crop insurance, farming, community, and family.

While he has been a crop adjuster for just six years, Art has been a farmer his whole life. As a third generation farmer, “I know what they are going through and what their worries are. I’m a farmer too,” commiserates Art. Imagine waking up one day to your life’s work destroyed by events beyond your control–producers must carry around this possibility (and lump in their throat) every day. It is an adjuster’s job to provide farmers with the aid they seek from crop insurance.

As producers dread the day when they must make a claim, Art is still able to make light of the situation. He laughs, “It seems that when it rains, it just keeps raining, and when it’s dry, it just stays dry.”

Growing up on the same place he now farms, Art has seen crop insurance grow around his own sleepy little town of Fordyce, Nebraska, “A while back I remember meeting one gentleman who didn’t have crop insurance, and that’s because there wasn’t a policy that really worked for his operation. Of course now, with improvements and changes to crop insurance, he has coverage. And today, I can’t name one person who doesn’t have crop insurance.”

“With current prices, farmers have to have crop insurance to stay in business,” points out Art. The loss of just one year can be so catastrophic that an operation cannot financially come back from it. Keeping a farmer’s “head above water” means another year that he is able to meet the demands of food production.

This is where the importance of an adjuster comes into play. They make the loss calculations for every insured field based upon scientific procedures. From these adjustments, it is determined how crop insurance policies can pay.  Creating a tie to the producer, adjusters work with their clients to provide assessments that will have a positive impact on the operation’s future.

Along with this, crop adjusters must be conscientious of their actions in order for this process to be successful. For the best results Art says that, “Every time I visit a field, I have two goals in mind: make the most accurate adjustment; and make sure the farmer feels that he can rely on my judgment.”

To reach this goal, “It’s very important that you clearly explain the procedures and how you came up with the loss adjustment total,” describes Art. Presenting these steps provides the farmer with an understanding as to how the loss was determined. Art’s appreciation for the producer is repaid with equal gratitude when he takes the extra time to help his clients.

From each visit, Art is one-step closer to a stronger relationship with the farmer. This is important to Art, because it is the reason he started adjusting in the first place.

“I always enjoyed visiting with my crop adjuster when he came out to my farm. He kept bringing up how he thought I would make a great adjuster,” tells Art, “I knew how much he had helped my farm operation, and I wanted to be able to do the same for others. I finally made the call and have loved my job ever since.”

It is not uncommon to find an adjuster like Art—one who has a passion for helping his community. But what is exceptional about him is that despite the fact that he must cover at least three different states at a time, being able to serve and contribute to agriculture is all Art asks for in return.

“Just like any job, there are trying times. But overall I enjoy my job, because I know that I am able to help the farmer,” explains Art.

Adjusters are the face of crop insurance, and make a direct impact on the perception of the industry. Besides their agent, a client will spend most of their time working with an adjuster when unfortunate weather strikes. It is important to remember that, “This is not only a business, but a livelihood; they [farmers] need to be reassured that they won’t lose what is very close and personal to them,” notes Art. How an adjuster interacts with a client will not go unnoticed or forgotten; a crucial point as to why crop insurance will always need adjusters like Art.

From developing a dedicated relationship, to mentoring farmers about procedures, Art brings a positive impact on crop insurance every day.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Diane McDonald, Inkster, North Dakota

Diane McDonald has spent most of her life farming in North Dakota and she’s loved every minute of it. But Diane knows that farming can be a very risky business.

“There are many steps that farmers can take to manage risk, like growing a wide variety of crops, rotating crops and growing cover crops to prevent erosion, and we do all of that,” she said. “But let’s face it, when we get an early August freeze, or a spring flood, or a drought, just about all of the best farming practices in the world will fail to protect us,” she added.

“And that is why I, like most farmers across the state, always purchase crop insurance.”

NCIS_carousel_image_94Diane farms about 1,700 acres with her husband in North Dakota’s Red River Valley. She’s a realist when it comes to business, and knows that the days of the government bailing out farmers after a big natural disaster are over.

“With the passage of the new Farm Bill, farmers must realize that the government is no longer going to come along with an ad hoc disaster bill and bail us out,” she said. “The new Farm Bill is something we should all applaud, since it was hard fought and will provide some degree of certainty to America’s farmers,” she added.

When she’s not farming, Diane is the National Media Chairperson for Women Involved in Farm Economics (WIFE). In that position, she hears from women farmers from across the country that have all praised crop insurance.

“Last spring, we had 18 inches of rain in 21 days, and half of our crops were in the ground already,” she noted. And when the rain finally finished, farmers couldn’t get back in their fields.

“We were facing steep losses, since rent is due and other costs had already been incurred, like fertilizer already on the fields,” she said. “The crop insurance indemnity check for prevented planting helped cover the rent on the land and the lost fertilizer,” she said. “We didn’t make a dime but it covered a lot of the cost.”

McDonald says that they always purchase crop insurance, which is not a small expenditure, costing somewhere north of $40,000 a year. And they seldom collect an indemnity.

“North Dakota has had its share of natural disasters during my tenure, from August frosts that killed entire corn crops to floods and droughts,” she said. “You name it.”

“All it takes is one big hail event and the farm is lost,” she noted. “And that, my friend, is why we always buy crop insurance.”