Members of Congress Share Support for Crop Insurance

Congress recently heard loud and clear from America’s farmers that they must do no harm to crop insurance as they consider programs to support rural America.

Farmers representing a diverse range of commodities testified last week before a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing called by Subcommittee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) to share their experience with the farm safety net.

“We’ve heard time and again how critical crop insurance is as a risk management tool for farmers,” Chairwoman Bustos said in her opening remarks.

Growers spoke to the effectiveness of the crop insurance program and its irreplaceable role in the farm safety net. Each of the farmers had been personally affected by either weather disasters, market volatility, or the pandemic. Sometimes even all three.

No matter the challenge, crop insurance was there to help them manage their risks and keep growing another season.

Their messages of support for crop insurance were quickly echoed by several of the members of Congress in attendance, including Congressman GT Thompson (R-Pa.), Ranking Member of the full committee:

“Rather than wait for an act of Congress, farmers need reliable assistance that only a standing program can provide and there is no better example of a program that responds quickly when needed than crop insurance. Above all else, we must first do no harm to the existing safety net.”

Several farmers underscored Congressman Thompson’s message on the timeliness of crop insurance assistance. The crop insurance program utilizes a unique public-private partnership to deliver indemnity checks in just days or weeks – not months, or even years, as can be the case when relying on ad hoc disaster assistance.

Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-Minn.) noted that the testimony before the subcommittee and conversations with her constituents had made it clear that “risk management tools like crop insurance are more important than ever. Federal crop insurance has been a success story because it’s actuarially sound and consistently works for farmers.”

Crop insurance is popular and trusted by farmers because it is affordable, widely available, and economically viable. It gives farmers the tools they need to tackle the challenges of today – and tomorrow.

Farmers Emphasize to Congress Importance of Crop Insurance

Farmers from across the country testified last week before a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing examining the efficacy of the farm safety net.

While each grower had a unique story to share, a common thread quickly became clear: America’s farmers depend on the Federal crop insurance program.

Read in their own words what crop insurance means to America’s farmers:

“Crop insurance is a vital tool for farmers, and Congress must not do anything to undermine it.” – Wes Shannon, peanut and cotton farmer in Georgia

“Crop insurance is a cornerstone of my operation. Our ability to market our grain, manage our risks and financially survive depends on crop insurance. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in a growing crop that can be wiped out in one weather event. And there are broader impacts on the ag economy. Considering what farmers spend on ag inputs, machinery, equipment, and crop protection, we must be successful for everyone else. That’s why crop insurance is so critical for our entire industry.” – Jeff Kirwan, corn and soybean farmer in Illinois

“Federal crop insurance is an absolute mainstay to rural Minnesota and farm families like mine. If Washington does anything on farm policy, it should first do no harm to crop insurance.” – Rob Tate, farmer, crop insurance agent, and crop revenue consultant in Minnesota

“I view the Federal crop insurance program to be a fundamental element of the safety net that secures the survival of domestic food production, which I consider to be of critical national importance for all Americans.” – Brian Talley, specialty crop farmer in California

These testimonies reflect the key role that crop insurance plays in the farm safety net. More than 1.1 million Federal crop insurance policies provide more than $100 billion in coverage across more than 380 million acres of farmland in all 50 states. It’s available to farmers of all sizes and more than 130 commodities.

Throughout the hearing, the growers shared their personal experiences with crop insurance and outlined the strengths of the Federal crop insurance program.

Unlike ad hoc disaster bills, which can take years before help arrives, crop insurance delivers assistance for covered losses in just days or weeks. That’s because crop insurance is built on a unique private-public partnership that draws on the efficiency of the private sector to quickly assess damages and determine losses when Mother Nature strikes.

The crop insurance program also gives farmers predictable tools to manage their unique risks. Farmers invest in crop insurance before a disaster – sharing in the risk – and they know how the rules of their policy will help them recover.

Rob Tate also testified that as an agent, he’s seen how important crop insurance is not only for established farmers, but also beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers who need to secure credit and manage their risks.

It’s no wonder that when everything is on the line, America’s farmers turn to crop insurance. Congress must continue to strengthen the crop insurance program and preserve this vital part of the farm safety net.

Crop Insurance Wins Wide Support on Capitol Hill and In Countryside

Federal crop insurance and the critical role it serves as part of the farm safety net unexpectedly took center stage at a recent Senate Finance hearing with the United States Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer.

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow questioned USTR Lighthizer on the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) proposed spending plan for Fiscal Year 2020, which takes aim at the United States Department of Agriculture. OMB suggested making cuts to a popular farm risk management tool: crop insurance.

While this budget is unlikely to ever be adopted by Congress, Senator Stabenow, who is the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, rightly noted that cuts to the USDA and crop insurance would be contrary to the policy objectives established by the overwhelmingly bipartisan passage of the Farm Bill in December 2018.

Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) immediately interjected, emphasizing that cutting crop insurance is a non-starter.

“It would gut the program,” the Chairman said of OMB’s proposal, “and that’s the one thing that our farmers and ranchers and growers all over the country said was the number one issue.”

He wasn’t alone in criticizing the plan.  Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) made his objections heard a couple of days earlier.

“More than 310 million farm acres protected by crop insurance would be at risk,” he said of the plan, which he noted, “undermines our farmers.”

And those farmers have been very clear in their message to Capitol Hill to “do no harm” to crop insurance. Some of these farmers reiterated this ask at this week’s Agri-Pulse summit in Washington, D.C.

Luke Howard, an organic farmer from Millington, Maryland, shared how crop insurance helped his farm after a record rainfall last year, stating it was a lifesaver and “a smart use of tax dollars.”

And a first-generation farmer, John Shepherd from Blackstone, Virginia, emphasized that he may not have survived his first few years of farming without the safety net provided by crop insurance.

Their stories and similar testaments from farmers and ranchers are clear.

We simply cannot balance the federal budget on the backs of America’s farmers and ranchers. And agriculture cannot thrive without a strong crop insurance system.

Farmers Helped Protect Crop Insurance During 2018 Farm Bill Debate

Every five years, Congress sets the course for our nation’s agricultural policy with the passage of a Farm Bill. When farm policy critics predictably suggested that Congress use the 2018 Farm Bill to undermine the critical safety net that crop insurance provides, those who depend on crop insurance were quick to tell Capitol Hill to “do no harm” to this important program.

The House Agriculture Committee held listening sessions across the country to hear first-hand from rural Americans and their message was clear: “The crop insurance system today is working.

Heather Hampton Knodle from Fillmore, Illinois:

Crop insurance [is a] critical tool for risk management, not only for farmers and rural communities, but also for the government.

Ben Scholz, President of the Texas Wheat Producers Association:

I know you will probably hear it a thousand times that crop insurance is indispensable. And all I’m going to say here is it’s absolutely true.

John Giesenschlag from Snook, Texas:

I feel very, very strongly that we have to maintain the crop insurance program. I think that it is administered efficiently because it’s done through private companies. I think that you can choose your level of coverage that you want. I think the product is delivered timely. I think that revenues are delivered back to the farmer timely, the producer, much more efficiently than has been done in the other programs that have been put out there.

Noah Hultgren from Wilmar, Minnesota:

…crop insurance is so important to me. We’ve got three families directly that derive income from our farm, and if we did not have crop insurance, we wouldn’t be able to survive. We had weather issues this year, just like other people. We had a whole 80 acres of corn that got hailed out and normally, if we did not have crop insurance, we wouldn’t be able to survive. We needed that to basically break even possibly and so we can farm again.

Kyle Peterson, Chairman of the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative:

Most crop farmers borrow more in 1 year to produce a crop than most Americans do in a lifetime. Our growers and our bankers need strong risk management tools like crop insurance that are essential in order to secure operating loans to grow our crop. With more frequent and intense weather patterns, rising interest rates and production costs, and lower commodity prices, our risk has gone up, while our balance sheets have gone down. We simply have to have affordable crop insurance to manage those risks.

Linda Carlton-Huber, owner of CF&H Insurance Agency in Illinois:

Agriculture plays an integral role in our economy. If the farmer struggles, so does every town in Illinois. Crop insurance has made farmers a better businessman.

James Fitzpatrick, agent at Arthur Carroll Insurance Agency in Connecticut:

…just remember, with the cuts that have been talked about for the Farm Bill for crop insurance, that it’s these people’s livelihoods. I mean, they have no control over the weather, and they need the safety net. It’s not just farms, it’s families, and we’re protecting our country’s food supply.

These messages demonstrating the positive benefits of the crop insurance program were echoed by legislators back in Washington, DC during debate over the future of the Farm Bill.

Congress responded by passing with overwhelmingly bipartisan majorities a Farm Bill that included strong crop insurance provisions, giving our farmers certainty and providing them with the tools they need to manage their unique risks. President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law in December, saying that “by signing this bill we are protecting our crop insurance program.”

As Congress begins the annual budget process, America’s agricultural community has asked House and Senate appropriators to ensure that the crop insurance program receives the full funding that it requires to be successful.

None of this would have been possible without farmers’ voices telling Washington that crop insurance is an indispensable part of our nation’s safe and affordable food supply.

2018 Farm Bill Strengthens Crop Insurance

As policymakers, commodity leaders, and insurers gathered this week for the crop insurance industry’s annual convention, recent legislative changes to the federal crop insurance program was one of the top discussion topics.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the Farm Bill, included several provisions that strengthened crop insurance and solidified its position as an important risk management tool.

“Passing Congress with the largest margin of any farm bill in history, this legislation demonstrated that preserving the farm safety net is an issue that transcends partisan lines,” said National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) President Tom Zacharias. “We thank Capitol Hill for listening to rural America and working diligently to ensure that crop insurance remains affordable and widely available for our farmers and ranchers.”

The Farm Bill strengthened crop insurance by directing research for new products, promoting coverage for underserved producers, and improving the availability and workability of various insurance programs.

NCIS staff Troy Brady and Mickey Paggi outlined some of the most significant changes in a recent article for Crop Insurance TODAY magazine, noting that these provisions “will increase crop insurance’s role as a key component of farm policy.”

Notable provisions included:

  • Improvements to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) policy that will provide more meaningful risk protection, especially for small and beginning farmers.
  • Additional research on topics including new irrigation practices, existing citrus fruit policies, and the development of policies to better address low-frequency, catastrophic losses due to weather events such as hurricanes.
  • An annual review of research regarding the development of insurance for new crops and how to improve crop insurance coverage in existing programs.

“Speedy and accurate implementation will be important for farmers… as they look to their most important risk management tool to help rebound from the extreme weather and a slumping rural economy that plagued 2018,” the authors wrote.

NCIS will be working closely with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to efficiently put the Farm Bill’s crop insurance provisions into action.

New Farm Bill with Strong Crop Insurance Becomes Law

President Donald Trump today officially signed the 2018 Farm Bill, making the five-year bill a law.

The American Association of Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, Crop Insurance Professionals Association, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents, and National Crop Insurance Services issued the following joint statement in response:

 It’s been a difficult year for farmers and ranchers from coast to coast, but rural America is ending 2018 on a high note with this farm bill. The new law keeps crop insurance affordable and widely available for agriculture, and it provides much-needed certainty heading into 2019.

 President Trump and Secretary Sonny Perdue have been vocal champions of the farm safety net and crop insurance, and they helped deliver in a big way for farmers and ranchers with this new law. Likewise, congressional leaders from both parties should be commended for their dedication in passing a bipartisan bill that provides the tools farmers need to manage their unique risks.

Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and Congressmen Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Collin Peterson (D-MN) worked tirelessly throughout this farm bill process to make U.S. agriculture stronger. On behalf of the entire crop insurance industry and the customers we serve, thank you.

 Crop insurance, which is delivered by the private sector, has become a key component of U.S. farm policy. Each year, farmers spend between $3.5 and $4 billion to purchase protection on the crops they grow, ensuring taxpayers are not shouldering all the risk. When disaster strikes, insurance aid is distributed quickly to help farmers pick up the pieces and plant again.

This year, 1.1 million crop insurance policies provided $106 billion in protection on more than 130 types of crops covering 311 million acres.

Efforts by farm policy critics to weaken agriculture’s primary risk management tool were soundly rejected by Congress, which heeded farmers’ advice to “Do no harm to crop insurance.”

Farm Bureau Compares Crop Insurance to Ad Hoc Disaster

As Congress continues preparation for the 2018 Farm Bill, rural America continues to voice its support for maintaining a strong crop insurance system.

One of the loudest voices in that chorus belongs to the country’s largest farm organization, the American Farm Bureau Federation.  An active member of the crop insurance coalition, Farm Bureau is working hard to dispel myths about farmers’ most important risk management tool.

And they are churning out useful analysis to help lawmakers make the best decisions possible.  Farm Bureau’s latest analysis compared crop insurance to disaster aid as a means to help farmers rebound after Mother Nature strikes.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

There are several benefits of crop insurance over ad-hoc disaster assistance. First, crop insurance provides certainty that in the event of a loss a farmer will be indemnified based on a portion of the value of the crop or livestock. Under crop insurance, farmers know what the losses are and indemnity payments are made directly to the farmer. With ad-hoc disaster packages, the compensation to an eligible farmer or rancher may not reflect the value of the loss….

Second, under crop insurance, when a farmer experiences a loss, an indemnity payment will be made within 30 days following the signing of the final loss paperwork. These claims are finalized through a private-sector delivery system. With ad-hoc disaster payments, the assistance payments may be delayed by several months or years following a loss. For farmers experiencing a revenue decline or a crop loss, timely indemnification provides an opportunity for growers to meet their financial obligations. Farmers do not have this same payment capacity with unanticipated emergency disaster payments. 

Third, under ad-hoc disaster payments, a farmer may not be required to prove a loss on the farm. Rather, farmers growing a specific crop or located in a specific part of the country may be eligible for ad-hoc disaster payments even if a loss was not experienced on the farm. Under crop insurance programs a farmer must suffer a financial loss, relative to the insurance guarantee, to qualify for indemnification  – commonly known in insurance principles as a deductible. This ensures that indemnity payments are targeted to areas impacted by a natural disaster such as a drought, hurricane or flood, and that payments are delivered directly to farmers and ranchers impacted by adverse weather….

At a time when net farm income is at a 12-year low, and after farm programs have already experienced substantial cuts in recent years, now is not the time to turn away from the reliability of the crop insurance program in favor of ad-hoc disaster payments. When Mother Nature is the farmers’ business partner, access to affordable and dependable insurance products remains a critically important component to the financial stability of farmers and the U.S. farm economy.

In other words, “Do no harm to crop insurance in the 2018 Farm Bill.”

First Video in Agri-Pulse Farm Bill Series Highlights Importance of Crop Insurance

The importance of crop insurance and other risk management tools to our nation’s farmers is the main message of the first segment in a new Agri-Pulse Farm Bill video series.

“We all rely on farmers and ranchers, but farming is riskier than other businesses out there,” the video begins. “Crop insurance helps farmers manage their risk.”

The video notes that with crop insurance, farmers put skin in the game, paying premiums and shouldering deductibles. This protects taxpayers from expensive ad hoc disaster bills.

The video features a number of interviews with farmers and ranchers, including Craig Hill, Iowa Farm Bureau president, who discussed the unique challenges farmers face.

“We have to negotiate with Mother Nature each and every year to grow a crop and that risk is fairly significant for most growers and so the crop insurance program is essential,” Hill said.

But it’s not just the weather that the modern farmer has to worry about. It’s the price of the crops they grow, which can respond quickly to a weather disaster or change of demand in the U.S. or around the world.

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, says that this uncertainty makes crop insurance “his bankers’ best friend.”

“Not only is it the drought and the things that you think about typically with crop insurance as far as yield loss, but also it’s the revenue side,” Paap said. “Having that ability to make sure that you can manage your risk, you can use your crop as collateral, by far is the #1 thing.”

And crop insurance isn’t just critical for traditional row crops. When it comes to specialty crops, crop insurance is a vital tool.

Kay Rentzel, executive director, National Peach Council, noted that when a farmer puts a tree or a bush in the ground it takes at least three years before they actually produce a harvest. So one catastrophic freeze potentially could wipe out an industry.

“We desperately want to be able to feed America, we want to be able to feed the world and we want to provide them with healthy, good-for-you food products and crop insurance is one of the roles and one of the tools they have to do that,” Rentzel said.

Blake Hurst, Missouri Farm Bureau president, stressed the importance of crop insurance to beginning farmers.

“For my sons-in-law who are just beginning farming, it is very important to them that they have some stability, some ability to plan, some ability to secure financing,” said Hurst. “If they don’t have a guarantee that that program is going to be there over the next several years as they make long-term plans, it becomes difficult for them to grow, for them to expand, for them to be successful in their farming careers.”

The segment concludes by stressing the importance of passing a strong Farm Bill in the near future.

“Uncertainty is never good,” said Russell Boening, Texas Farm Bureau president. “If you don’t know what your risk management tools are going to be or how they are going to work – yes it can be nerve wracking; it can cause sleepless nights.”

NCIS President Discusses the Important Role of Crop Insurance

NCIS President Tom Zacharias discussed the growing role of crop insurance as the primary risk management tool for farmers in a recent radio interview with Courtnay Doyle of Dignity Farm Network in southwestern Minnesota.  “The 2014 Farm Bill solidified crop insurance as the primary tool for farmers in dealing with production and price swings,” said Zacharias.

Zacharias noted that farmers purchase crop insurance to protect their crops from both volatile weather conditions and uncertain market conditions, which can fluctuate daily.  “It gives farmers and lenders a peace of mind and ensures financial stability, which is important in the agricultural sector,” he said.

He explained that multi-peril crop insurance protects farmers from a whole host of natural disasters, including hail, freeze, drought, disease and loss of revenue due to drops in prices.  “There are roughly 128 crops covered by crop insurance,” he said.

Zacharias also pointed out that in order to enjoy the protection of crop insurance, farmers must first purchase policies.  “Farmers spend about $4 billion each year to purchase crop insurance.  This means that they have significant skin in the game, and they assume a good deal of the risk as well,” he said.

He also pointed out that in addition to paying premiums, farmers have deductibles on these policies ranging from 15 to 35 percent.  “So when a farmer receives an indemnity, it’s after this deductible has been met and the premium has been paid,” he said.

Specialty Crop Growers, Organic Farmers, Ranchers Can Now Purchase the Protection of Crop Insurance

Growers of fruits and vegetables, as well as organic farmers and ranchers, will now be able to purchase the protection of crop insurance with Whole-Farm Revenue Protection crop insurance policies, announced recently by USDA.

The new policy is available for the 2015 crop year.

“USDA is committed to making crop insurance available and affordable to as many producers as possible,” said RMA Administrator Brandon Willis.  “Whole Farm Revenue Protection is another example of how we’re working with and listening to producers to create a safety net that meets their specific needs,” he said.

Whole-Farm Revenue Protection allows producers to insure a variety of crops instead of one commodity at a time, giving them the ability to increase their crop diversity and produce a wider range of foods for consumers.   The policy, created by the 2014 Farm Bill, allows producers to insure 50 to 85 percent of their whole farm revenue.

“This levels the playing field for producers who felt that crop insurance didn’t work for them,” Willis said.

The new policy is available in most states and will also provide a whole farm premium discount to farms with two or more commodities as long as minimum diversification requirements are met.   Whole-Farm Revenue Protection can be purchased in conjunction with individual policies if those policies are at buy-up coverage levels.

Crop Insurance Primer Available Online

The 2014 Farm Bill was clearly a turning point in federal policy towards agriculture, pivoting away from the traditional support mechanism paradigm of the past and into a risk management model that features crop insurance as farmers’ primary—or only—risk management tool.  But with that new emphasis comes an increased need for basic information about crop insurance, what it is, how it works and why it has become the risk management tool of choice for America’s farmers.

These basics of crop insurance are available in an NCIS video titled “Crop Insurance 101.” The video is very helpful for Americans who have very little to do with agriculture, or for those who now find themselves needing to know more about this important risk management tool.

The video explains the public-private partnership of the crop insurance, the way crop insurance has removed some of the risk burden from taxpayers, and the role adjusters, and the companies they work for, play in the crop insurance program.  It also explains that in order to be protected by crop insurance, farmers must first purchase it with their own money.   Already this year, farmers have spent nearly $4 billion purchasing crop insurance.

USDA Announces Progress In Implementing Crop Insurance Provisions

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced recently that it continues to make progress in implementing provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill that will strengthen and expand insurance coverage options for farmers and ranchers. The new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), available through the federal crop insurance program and set to begin with the 2015 crop year, is designed to help protect producers from yield and market volatility.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack pointed out that this nation’s producers work hard to produce a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food for the country.   “It’s critical that they have crop insurance options to effectively manage risks and ensure that they do not lose everything due to events beyond their control,” he said.   Vilsack added that USDA has made it a priority to ensure the Supplemental Coverage Option was available to help farmers in this upcoming crop year.

The 2014 Farm Bill strengthens and expands crop insurance by providing more risk management options for farmers and ranchers and by making crop insurance more affordable for beginning farmers. SCO, which is administered by the Risk Management Agency (RMA), further strengthens the farm safety net.

SCO will be available for corn, cotton, grain sorghum, rice, soybeans, spring barley, spring wheat, and winter wheat in selected counties for the 2015 crop year. Producers should contact their crop insurance agents to discuss eligibility in time to sign up for winter wheat coverage. RMA plans to make SCO more widely available by adding more counties and crops. Information on SCO for 2015 winter and spring wheat is available on the RMA website.

SCO is a county-level policy endorsement that is in addition to an underlying crop insurance policy, and covers a portion of losses not covered by the same crop’s underlying policy. Producers who elect to participate in Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC), which is offered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), are not eligible for SCO for the crop and farm participating in ARC.

Vilsack noted today’s announcement was made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for taxpayers. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/farmbill.

Farm Bill Proves Crop Insurance Popularity At All-Time High, Says Industry Leader

Weber,Tim FinalPassage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which cemented crop insurance as the cornerstone of farm policy, proved that crop insurance’s popularity among farmers has reached an all-time high, said Tim Weber, co-chairman of the American Association of Crop Insurers and National Crop Insurance Services.

“If I had to sum up the story of the crop insurance industry in one simple statement, I think it would have to be ‘We’ve made a lot progress but our best years remain ahead of us,’” Weber said today during his opening remarks at the annual conference sponsored by National Crop Insurance Services and the American Association of Crop Insurers in February.

Since its inception in 1938, crop insurance has steadily evolved and today protects 90 percent of planted cropland in America. The industry won widespread praise in agricultural circles and on Capitol Hill for helping rural America quickly rebound after the devastating droughts of 2012.

“There can be no question that when it comes to managing the risks posed by Mother Nature or volatile world markets, federal crop insurance has no equal,” he said, adding “it has reached its pinnacle, all while overall federal spending on farm programs has trended down.”

Weber explained that in order to continue to build on past successes, the industry should rely on the same three keys that helped its rise to prominence: Affordability, availability and viability.

In order for crop insurance to remain viable as farmers’ primary risk management tool, the crop insurance infrastructure must remain financially strong, he said. Additionally, customer service, program integrity, and widespread participation will be paramount. And unless crop insurance remains affordable and available to all, Weber believes the entire system could collapse.

Crop insurers faced attempts to reduce program participation during the Farm Bill, but proposals to cap crop insurance benefits and force some farmers to pay higher premiums failed.

“We applaud our congressional leaders for overwhelmingly passing a Farm Bill that strengthens, not weakens, our commitment to crop insurance even in the face of federal spending pressure,” Weber concluded. “I truly believe that 10 years down the road, when we look back at the 2014 Farm Bill, it will be elevated to one of the major legislative initiatives that established landmark developments for crop insurance and production agriculture.”

Senate Passes Five-Year Farm Bill, Begins New Era for U.S. Farm Policy

The Senate overwhelmingly passed the 2013 Farm Bill with a very strong of vote of 66 to 27, with 93 senators voting. The passage of the bill represents an historic pivot in U.S. farm policy, away from the era of direct payments to large numbers of commodity farmers to crop insurance, which must be individually purchased by each farmer and offers financial support – in the form of a crop insurance indemnity payment – only when they incur a verifiable loss, including weather damages or commodity price fluctuations.

The issue is now in the House of Representatives where the debate continues. Both bills pare overall Farm Bill spending, with the Senate version projecting $24 billion in savings over ten years and the House version projecting $40 billion in savings over the same period of time. Eighty percent of Farm Bill expenditures will go to food assistance programs and roughly 20 percent goes to farm programs, including conservation, renewable energy, commodity programs and crop insurance.

The dramatic shift in farm policy was best encapsulated by a quote made by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) during the debate. “Crop insurance is insurance. The farmer gets a bill, not a check,” she said. The Senate bill would cut $24 billion from farm spending over 10 years, and includes a provision tying the ability of a farmer to purchase crop insurance to conservation compliance requirements.

Prior to the bill’s passage, USDA Acting Deputy Secretary Michael Scuse pointed out that the performance of crop insurance during last year’s drought was clear proof of the program’s value. “We provided insurance for about $116 billion worth of crops last year,” he said. Scuse added, “We’ve paid about $17 billion in indemnities. I think that shows this program worked and it worked as it was intended. We got the money out to the producers and it’s going to help an awful lot of people stay in business that, had we not had a really good crop insurance, may not have been farming this year.”

Despite strong opposition from Chairman Stabenow, the bill contains an amendment sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin, (D-Il) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) which would reduce the premium discount for farmers in higher income brackets or those from larger or more successful farms. Chairman Stabenow said the amendment would raise premium costs by 40 percent for the affected farmers and would reduce the amount of acreage that must comply with federal conservation standards.

Neither the conservation compliance measure nor the premium subsidy limit is in the bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee.

AFBF’s Thatcher Discusses Crop Insurance as a Key Part of Farm Safety Net

There are going to be more challenges to the writing of the 2012 Farm Bill than agriculture has ever seen, said the American Farm Bureau Federation Senior Director of Congressional Relations Mary Kay Thatcher, during a recent interview with the National Association of Farm Broadcasting that ran nationally.

“We don’t have as much money to write the Farm Bill as we did in 2008,” noted Thatcher, who added that another challenge is the large number of urban members of Congress who believe that farmers are getting rich off of strong crop prices this year.

Thatcher explained that good prices come and go and inclement weather can strike at any time, which is why it is important to remember that Farm Bills cover a number of years and that crop insurance is a very important component of the legislation. “It’s just a real good risk management tool. We’re able to have famers pay part of the premium and government pay part of the premium to make it affordable,” she explained.

Thatcher pointed out that crop insurance ensures that if we have tough weather like “wildfires in Texas and flooding in the Midwest, that farmers are able to indeed get enough assistance that they can farm for another year.”

Thatcher urged all areas of agriculture to come together during the upcoming debate, using all of our voices to push for as much political influence as possible. “We don’t just compete with the farmers down the road, we compete with the farmers of the world,” she added.

2012 Farm Bill Should Hold The Thin Green Line

Minnesota has more at stake than most in 2012 farm bill.

Rural America has been abuzz lately about a term coined by retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark to describe the challenge of feeding more and more Americans with fewer and fewer farmers. His phrase, “hold the thin green line,” sums up what many of us have spent a lifetime trying to convey.

“If we cannot feed, fuel and clothe ourselves, then we cannot defend ourselves. If this one bright spot in our economy is choked off, then recession recovery will certainly stall,” Clark said.

Here in Minnesota, we have more at stake than most when it comes to holding the thin green line.

Almost half of the state’s land is devoted to food production, one-quarter of our residents are employed by agriculture, and we are national leaders in producing staple crops such as corn, wheat and sugar. So how does Minnesota build on this success story? It all starts in the halls of Congress with debate of the 2012 farm bill, and that debate is about to get under way.

Some lawmakers are already taking aim at agriculture. Some are pointing to federal budget deficits as an excuse to cut gaping holes in the farm safety net and leave Minnesota’s economy vulnerable to the whims of Mother Nature and the roller-coaster rides of current commodity markets.

Such attempts are as foolish as they are disingenuous, especially when you consider the current state of farm budgets. The sugar policy that underpins the state’s Red River Valley, for example, costs taxpayers $0. Some policy replacements that have been proposed in the past would cost $1.3 billion a year or more.

Meanwhile, the policies in place to help the state’s corn, soybean and wheat growers hedge risk continue to operate under budget and represent less than one-quarter of 1 percent of federal spending.

Then there’s arguably the most important tool to Minnesota farmers: crop insurance. Crop insurance was specifically designed to shield taxpayers from mega-payouts that could result from catastrophic situations such as commodity price collapses and weather disasters.

By helping farmers afford insurance policies that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, the government is able to stretch tax dollars much further. The 2010 crop is a prime example – every dollar spent by the government yielded $20 worth of protection for farmers. And this divide is expected to grow in 2011.

If you doubt the need for crop insurance, just look at recent data from the National Weather Service, which shows that excessive snow in the Great Plains and Midwest may leave more of the state’s valuable crops under water than the 2009 record-setting floods.

Now is not the time to weaken crop insurance and put taxpayers – instead of private insurance companies – on the hook for picking up the pieces. If anything, discussions should be centered on ways to strengthen crop insurance and the rest of the safety net. After all, there’s far more at stake than farmers in the next farm bill.

Widner is chairman of the American Crystal Sugar Co. and grows sugar beets, wheat and soybeans in Stephen, Minn.
This article appeared in the Fargo Forum on April 24, 2011.

Farm Bill Principles and Crop Insurance

America’s abundance of affordable and nutritious food is the envy of the world. This is not an accident, as our long history of investment in agricultural infrastructure has made this possible. Underpinning this system is crop insurance’s modern public/private partnership that provides a safety net for farmers, helping them manage price and weather risks.

USDA’s Agricultural Outlook conference speech by Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, outlined her principles for the upcoming Farm Bill. She urged us not to look at the 2012 Farm Bill under the lens defined by budget cuts or specific programs but instead from principles like “creating the best safety net and the best tools possible for managing risk.”

Ask any Michigan farmer — or any American farmer — what fits this bill, and crop insurance will be among the first responses. Crop insurance provides protection to producers of the Great Lakes state’s lucrative specialty crops — like the well-known tart cherry crop — should prices crash or Mother Nature deal an unwelcome blow. In fact, it is the only safety net tool available for most fruit and vegetable growers.

It is easy to see why crop insurance has gained so much popularity with farmers. In fact, more than 1.1 million policies covering 256 million acres across the U.S. were written in 2010 to deal with risks. Nationally, this public/private partnership enabled the government to turn a modest investment into nearly $80 billion in protection in 2010.

Stabenow wants the Farm Bill to be based on the notion that farmers know better than anyone else what works for them. A major strength of today’s crop insurance program is that it allows farmers to create individualized risk management solutions tailored to their specific risks.

When catastrophe hits, the only thing protecting many producers from bankruptcy is crop insurance, which is streamlined by the efficiency of private sector delivery. And banks are increasingly relying on crop insurance, knowing fully that the money they loan farmers for food production is partially secured by this program.

Unfortunately, this risk management tool has been put under the budget-cutting microscope in recent years. Lawmakers in search of budget offsets for other, often non-farm priorities, have already substantially reduced funding.

Bill Murphy with USDA’s Risk Management Agency recently cited an agency report that indicated current investments in crop insurance are delivering a significant bang for the buck. The persuasive attributes of crop insurance, despite the funding reductions already taken, underscore a program that is cost effective and sustainable.
The U.S. agricultural sector is a source of deep economic strength and stability. As weather-driven crop failures globally cause price fluctuations and food shortages we should be heartened by our fiscally sound crop insurance policies. As Stabenow also noted, “We need an effective safety net so that we aren’t watching family businesses go under because of a few days of bad weather or market factors outside of their control.” Indeed, crop insurance is attempting to meet this need not only in Michigan, but nationwide as well.