Eastern North Carolina farmers on long road to recovery after Hurricane Florence

WALLACE, NC – Justine Price was looking forward to a great soybean crop this fall. His beans were coming in strong, covering the fields of his eastern North Carolina farm in a lush green.

Mother Nature had other plans.

As Hurricane Florence approached the North Carolina coast, he moved his equipment to higher ground and prepared as best he could for what was expected to be a storm with Category 4 winds.

What he wasn’t expecting was the rain. The storm stalled once it made landfall and dumped almost 30 inches on his farm. The river flooded, and water rose to about 5 feet in his garage as Price and his wife moved their furniture to the second story of their home.

Today, piles of debris from the inside of gutted homes lines the street in his hometown of Wallace.

In his fields, brown and rotting soybeans are tangled. Old tires, a refrigerator, gas cans and wooden crates are strewn across another nearby field.

Price spends his time now trying to rebuild, helping his family and loading supplies at the fire department to help with the relief effort. His crops are a total loss.

“I had been smart in my decision making,” he says, “and carried crop insurance, which you know that’s not a salvation but it’s a help.”

Down the road in Mt. Olive, Reginald Strickland faces the same damage. His cotton crop is rotting in the fields and his tobacco is destroyed.

“Every dollar will help,” he says, “because we are going to be in the hole.”

And it’s not just this year. Eastern North Carolina has suffered hurricanes, droughts and low prices for several years running.

The damage left in Hurricane Florence’s wake is a reminder of the reason American agriculture needs a strong, affordable and widely available system of crop insurance. The adjusters will make their assessments and get payments to farmers here much faster than any ad hoc federal relief bill.

“Crop insurance is very important to all of Ag,” Strickland says. “We really need it. We have to have it. It is the only way we can continue to produce the food and fiber it takes to feed the world.”

Price says the payments won’t cover everything and they won’t provide him income until the next crop is harvested. But they will help him farm another season.

For now, he is putting his faith in a higher power.

“Just trust in the Lord,” he says. “That’s the biggest thing.”

Watch these stories and more at cropinsuranceinmystate.org.

Montana Farms Fight Weather, Low Prices to Stay in Business

Evan Volf spent a few years in banking after college. He had a good job with Northwest Farm Credit Services managing a growing portfolio in Bozeman.

It was 9-5 with weekends off, retirement and health insurance. The money was great for his growing family.

But Volf’s heart was at the family ranch and farm 120 miles north in Judith Gap. He grew up there with his two brothers and always dreamed of going back to work the land with his father, Jeff.


When his dad called one day and said there was a chance to lease more land and grow the business, he gladly gave up his banking job and moved his family back to the farm.

It certainly wasn’t the low pay or working seven days a week at the mercy of weather that brought him back.

“What brought us back is the lure of the country lifestyle and being your own boss and working with your family,” he said. “And working with your kids on a day-to-day basis and bringing them up with the values that we all know and love.”

The story of the Volf family is among several that National Crop Insurance Services documented in Montana as part of its ongoing series on American farmers and ranchers. The state’s vast distances and often unpredictable weather make farming and ranching here challenging.

Today, Evan farms with his wife, Brittany, three children EJ, Miles and Dexter, and his mom and dad. They raise red angus cattle, wheat, barley, alfalfa along with willow creek hay barely and peas.

This year, bad weather delayed planting. Typically, they are seeding by April 20, but weren’t able to get a seed in the ground until May 5.

And a big storm two days later brought five more inches of snow and kept them out of the fields for another two weeks.

His father, also grew up on the farm and ranch and has been running it full-time since 1978. He’s seen plenty of springs like this last one.

“Mother nature is always in the background saying hey we are going to dry out here next week … so we just really need to have (crop insurance) to cover our expenses if we do have major wipe out here with hail or a drought. And we’ve had that,” Jeff said.

Evan is likewise glad that crop insurance is part of the family’s business plan.

“Thankfully, we have crop insurance to help us manage these kinds of circumstances. We pay for this protection, but it is well worth it,” he explained.

Not far from the Volf farm, insurance adjusters learned how to accurately assess damage to crops in a training session at Montana State University’s Central Ag Research Center in Moccasin.

Eddy Joyce, an adjuster with ARMTech Insurance, who currently serves as the chair of the NCIS Montana Committee, was one of the instructors.

“We provide schools for both new and experienced adjusters and we also discuss potential policy issues within the crops here in Montana,” Joyce said.

Joyce said having a training school is important to make sure everyone is on the same page and to get all the adjusters, both young and old – experienced and inexperienced – familiar with the policies so there’s no variability.

“Any time you can be prepared and educated, I believe in any field, you are going to put whoever you are working with at ease. If they can see you are a knowledgeable individual within your field and a professional within your field they are going to be a lot more comfortable with you than if you go in blind, so to say,” Joyce said.

Mike Mills, who works for Rural Community Insurance Services and served as a trainer at the school, agreed.

“It’s really important that adjusters are trained in the NCIS procedures for the crops that have been researched so very well by the different aggregate universities throughout the Northwest and Montana and some even in southern Canada. They give us the most viable and accurate and fair way of providing, adjusting and evaluating crop damage to give the farmers fair payments on the policies they have bought,” Mills said.

Watch these stories and more at cropinsuranceinmystate.org

Crop Insurance Critical to Colorado Farmers

National Crop and Insurance Services (NCIS) is on the road this year to speak first-hand with farmers, ranchers and insurance adjusters across the country about the unique challenges they face and the importance of crop insurance. The consensus is clear—crop insurance is one tool that farmers simply cannot do without.

In this What’s Cropping Up, we are pleased to share profiles of farmers and ranchers in Colorado.


Steve Wooten

Steve Wooten operates Beatty Canyon Ranch in northeast Las Animas County. Earlier this year, his family ranch was awarded the Colorado Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes agricultural landowners actively committed to a land ethic.

Being stewards of the land is something that has always been important to the Wootens, who have made great progress in conservation methods over the years.

But, as Wooten noted, unfortunately, no amount of innovation can protect farmers from variables like weather.  For the last 20 years, persistent drought situations have affected his cow-calf operation.

“Thankfully, today we do have some tools in place to help deal with these types of weather-related risks. One of the most important tools is an efficient crop insurance program for our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” Wooten said.

On Beatty Canyon Ranch, fourth, fifth and even sixth generations are involved in day-to-day operations, and the family’s ranching history stretches back to when Wooten’s great-grandfather immigrated from Ireland. While this may sound impressive, it is not uncommon among farm families.

“We are doing our part, and I urge Congress to do its part by passing a new Farm Bill with crop insurance intact. It, along with our ongoing conservation efforts, will ensure that farmers and ranchers will have a legacy to pass down to future generations,” Wooten said.

Watch his video story here.


Tim Brown

Tim Brown, of Limon, Colorado, is a third-generation farmer. His dad started the farm in 1956. But his father suffered two hailstorms in a row that effectively closed the farm and forced him to work elsewhere.

Brown says he faces some of the same issues today that his family faced when he was growing up, including fluctuating markets, trade issues and, of course, Mother Nature.

“This is the importance of the crop insurance. If we didn’t have the crop insurance, I don’t know what we would do,” Brown said.

Brown noted that many people don’t realize crop insurance only covers a farmer’s costs – at best.

“It just barely covers my cost to put that crop in the ground. Just barely,” he said.

Watch his video story here.


Brad Rock

Brad Rock has been farming in Wray, Colorado, for 20 years. His family grows several crops, raises cattle and runs a trucking operation.

“We do it because we love it,” Rock said. “We get to provide a quality product to the consumer that we feel comfortable growing and raising.”

His son, Alex, went to college and came home to help on the farm, particularly on the technology side. His dad says it is his calling.

But Rock notes that one of the current challenges his family farm faces is an increase in input costs, including seed fertilizer, rent, equipment and employee costs.

“If we were not to have crop insurance and we would lose a crop, we don’t have any way to recoup any of our input costs,” Rock said.

This year, Rock’s farm lost nine quarters of ground, including wheat, sunflowers, millet and corn – all in one afternoon storm. A week later, the farm lost another quarter.

“If we didn’t have (crop) insurance, we would be in a world of hurt,” Rock said. “Not only do we depend on that to pay for our expenses, but we have seven other employees that work for us.”

Programs like crop insurance also help keep food prices low for consumers, Rock noted.

Watch his video story here.


Our series continues soon in Montana so be sure to check back at cropinsuranceinmystate.org for more great stories to watch and share.

ICYMI: Crop Insurance Helps Preserve Farming for Future Generations

Farming is a unique profession in so many ways. First, it is more like a calling — to be part of God’s gifts here, and a steward of these gifts. To follow a crop from seed to harvest, or to see an animal born and grow to maturity — that’s a lot of the reason we do what we do.

But farming is different from other professions in other ways as well, including the unique risks and unpredictabilities we face every year. Farmers, for example, are always at the mercy of the weather. A 200-bushel corn crop can quickly become a 50-bushel corn crop under the wrong conditions.

In addition, we face a volatile market and never know which way the pendulum is going to swing. Lately, it hasn’t been swinging in our direction.

Thankfully, we have tools like crop insurance that help us manage risks like these. I feel strongly that crop insurance is critical to preserving our farms for future generations. So strongly, in fact, that in addition to being a farmer, I have also served as a crop insurance agent for fellow farmers for nearly two decades.

In my role as a crop insurance agent, I work with growers to help them purchase protection they need whether they are starting a farm, or preparing for their next crop.

For beginning farmers, having this protection is especially important. Many farmers starting out rely on banks for operating loans and these banks often require crop insurance so that farmers can pay back these loans if they have a bad year.

It has been extremely rewarding for me to work with these young farmers and to play a role in helping them not only get started in business, but stay in business despite the numerous challenges farm country has experienced in recent years.

During the severe drought of 2012, for example, our area had terrible crop yields. That year was hard enough on established farmers, but for beginning farmers I know that having crop insurance played an integral role in their survival.

There are a few misconceptions out there about crop insurance, which have become especially widespread during the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. But let’s be clear: Crop insurance is not a handout.

Farmers purchase crop insurance out of their own pockets. On average, farmers spend $3.5 to $4 billion per year for crop insurance coverage. Last year in Kentucky, farmers collectively paid $57 million for coverage. As is the case with other types of insurance, we must prove that we have met a deductible to be eligible for a payment for a portion of our loss.

Because of the unique risks involved in farming, the federal government also provides support to reduce the cost to farmers. If we didn’t have this federal support, crop insurance would simply not be affordable for most of America’s farmers and ranchers.

Of note, before crop insurance was widely available and efficient like it is today, the cost of natural disasters fell directly on U.S. taxpayers by way of disaster bills. And they took forever to get to the farm.

I am fortunate to be the eighth generation of my family to farm in LaRue County, although I didn’t inherit family farm land. We purchased our farm more than a decade ago, basically starting from scratch. It hasn’t always been easy, but it is our way of life — our calling. Agriculture has always been the backbone of our country, and I would love for one or all three of my children to carry on this tradition.

In order for that to happen, we have to protect crop insurance.

Jeremy Hinton is a farmer and crop insurance agent in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

This op-ed was published in the Herald News (LaRue County, Kentucky)

New Series Documents Crop Insurance’s Importance as Congress Hammers Out Farm Bill

Farmers across the nation spent the dog days of summer praying for more rain, or less rain, harvesting wheat, worrying about failed corn crops and wondering how far commodity prices will drop.

And in Washington, lawmakers spent the hot summer hammering out their differences in the Farm Bill – a critical piece of legislation the agriculture community hopes will pass before fall harvest time.

National Crop Insurance Services set out this summer to document the lives and voices of farmers across America in a new series that debuts today with stories from Kentucky and Indiana. You can watch the stories on NCIS’ new website, cropinsuranceinmystate.org, which also features a host of information about America’s top farm safety net program.

Jeff Coke is one of the farmers NCIS caught up with. He loves growing corn and soybeans on his farm in Owensboro, Kentucky. His love of the land might sound strange to the folks in the big cities.

“We have a tie to the dirt that other people don’t understand,” he said. “You know, I like the smell of fresh dirt. Most people think that’s crazy. I like the smell of fresh cut hay. I like the smell of silage. Manure doesn’t even upset me. That’s the smell, when I was a kid, you always smelled in the spring time.”

Despite his love and care for the land he farms, this year hasn’t been good to Coke. He’s lost a lot of his crop.

“We usually start drilling wheat about the 10th of October,” he said. “We only got to go about five days and then it started raining and it’s been wet ever since until we started planting corn and we’ve been wet off and on even through the corn planting season. I’ve already lost some corn three times.”

Crop insurance will help him recover at least some of what he lost in the corn. It will help him farm another season and deliver the quality food American’s expect at a price they can afford.

“It is a total protection plan for our food supply,” he said. “If you lose your farmers, you lose your food. It’s that simple.”

Across the state line in Boonville, Indiana, Mike Heuring is expecting a decent harvest. He hasn’t had the problems with the wet weather that Coke experienced.

While this harvest is looking up, it wasn’t too long ago that Heuring, who is also a crop insurance agent, faced a massive loss. The drought of 2012 remains the worst he can remember and likely the worst his family has experienced in at least three generations.

“It was so hot,” he said. “In addition to being dry it was very hot. And you could actually smell the corn cooking in the field on some of those afternoons.”

Without insurance, he says he would have had to sell land or equipment, or take out loans on property, to farm another year.

“I don’t know if it would have put me out of business, but it would have been 10 steps backwards,” he said. “It would have been really bad.”

He’s glad to see Congress is keeping crop insurance intact in the Farm Bill instead of limiting it, or making it more expensive, as some opponents of American agriculture have suggested.

“Why not have a safety net where the people that occasionally benefit from it are paying into it,” he said. “It’s not a handout.”

It’s also better than disaster legislation, which in the past has been mired in politics and late to arrive, he said.

“I think it’s much better than an ad hoc disaster type program,” he said. “By the time you would actually get that benefit it’s almost too late anyway. So yeah, I think crop insurance is the best system and obviously the majority of farmers agree based upon the participation rates.”

Farmers in Ohio, Kentucky Advocate for Crop Insurance

A pair of soybean farmers in America’s heartland are urging Congress to leave crop insurance alone as it debates the 2018 Farm Bill with columns published recently in newspapers in both states.

Scott Metzger, who farms with his family at Metzger Family Farms in Williamsport, Ohio, offered his story of decades of heartbreak that came from a single storm in a piece published in the Circleville Herald.

His family has been farming in south central Ohio for six generations, he said in the piece. He is proud of his heritage and knew from a young age he wanted to farm.

“When I was 5, on a July day in 1980, a storm tore through our community in Williamsport,” he wrote. “The things I remember about that day are the memories of a child: My toy tractor blown down the road. The roof ripped off the house. The shop flattened. All of that could be repaired. But in our fields was a disaster that I’ve been dealing with now for my entire adult life.”

The family ended up with crushing debt that year. They had to sell farm land to stay in business. It took 36 years to buy all of it back.

“While the story is sad enough, there’s a tragic piece of irony to add,” Metzger noted. “That year, back in 1980, a man came by the farm selling crop insurance. He was one of the first in our area to offer it. My family declined. We had never needed it before and didn’t see a reason to spend on it then.”

Today, crop insurance is part of the Metzger family farm’s business plan. He said modern and effective products like Harvest Price Option allow his farm to forward contract and not be as concerned if they have a short crop in the summer and need to buy back contracts.

Metzger is on the Ohio Soybean Association Board of Trustees and is a director with the American Soybean Association.

“As Congress debates the Farm Bill, I hope lawmakers will remember my family’s story and continue to support the modern crop insurance farmers have come to rely on,” he concluded.

In Kentucky, farmer Caleb Ragland penned an op-ed that was published in the News-Enterprise in Elizabethtown not far from where he farms.

His family has been farming in Kentucky for nine generations.

“At 31, I’m already a lifer,” he wrote in the piece. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than growing soybeans, corn and winter wheat and raising pigs in a pretty part of the world.”

But, Ragland explained that the business of farming has been tough in recent years.

Nationally, farm incomes are down 50 percent compared to what they were 5 years ago putting everyone in a financial pinch.

“Grain prices are down,” he said. “So are beef, pork, poultry and milk. Couple all of that with the fact that most of your farmland operations, on any scale, have substantial debt loads, and it’s easy to see how people are struggling in farm country.”

Ragland is optimistic, though. The growing population will mean a good future for farmers if smart policy decisions are made in Washington, he concluded.

And, leaving crop insurance unchanged in the 2018 Farm Bill, including Harvest Price Option, is a smart choice.

“HPO lets us forward market our crops,” he wrote. “It protects revenue, not just yields, offering the equivalent of ‘replacement value’ coverage on a car. And as farmers, we’re willing to pay extra for the protection HPO offers because it gives you the faith you need put your borrowed money in the ground and know you’ll be able to pay it back.”

Ragland’s request of Congress was simple: Don’t fix wasn’t isn’t broken.

ICYMI: Crop Insurance Must be Protected in Upcoming Farm Bill

As the Farm Bill is being debated in Washington, one thing that I, as president of the Montana Grain Growers, am committed to emphasizing is the importance of crop insurance.

Put simply, crop insurance is cornerstone of our nation’s farm policy, with 90 percent of farmland today enrolled in the program. In Montana, that accounts for 19.8 million acres and $1.1 billion in insured liability on growing crops.

The numbers tell the story, but let me share another compelling one — my own.

I returned to my fourth-generation family farm in south central Montana in 2012 and my first wheat crop was harvested the following year. During that first growing season, we were in the middle of a significant drought — and ultimately went almost 24 months with little to no precipitation. Late rains helped a little, but for my winter wheat, much of the damage had already been done.

The crop was slow to emerge, slow to grow, and had several other issues that limited its potential. Then came the final devastating blow. In June, a powerful thunderstorm rolled through the area. By the time it was finished, three-quarters of my crop was pounded into the ground. What limited potential that the crop did have was erased in a matter of minutes.

For a fledging farm operation like mine, something like this would be impossible to come back from without some safety net in place. Because of crop insurance, I was able to farm again after that year, and continue, alongside my father and husband, to farm the land to this day.

No, crop insurance certainly didn’t make up for the crop I lost that first year, but it did keep me from having to tell the bank I could not pay back my operating loans, or that I could not make the payments on my new machinery loan. Having crop insurance kept me from failing before I even got started.

My story is not unique. Farmers across the nation must take out huge operating loans to keep their businesses afloat. This, combined with the unpredictability of Mother Nature, makes it having crop insurance crucial to the solvency of these operations.

A handful of farm policy critics in D.C, who have never stepped foot on a farm, are quick to call for cuts to crop insurance despite the fact it is more efficient and cost-effective than the alternative. I don’t think any of us would like to go back to the days before we had crop insurance, when natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly emergency disaster legislation, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Farmers and rural communities know the importance of the crop insurance firsthand. We know it needs to remain a viable program for farmers and we know we need to protect it from having bits and pieces dismantled through budget resolutions, appropriations, and Farm Bill negotiations.

It is incumbent on all of us to share this message with lawmakers in Washington to and urge them to “do no harm” to the crop insurance program.

Michelle Erickson-Jones is president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. She operates a grain and forage operation with her father, Bart, and husband, Travis, near Broadview.

This op-ed was published in the Billings Gazette.

Farmers Urge Congress to Back Crop Insurance in New Video

For more than a year, farmers from across the country have urged the U.S. House Agriculture Committee to maintain a strong crop insurance system in the 2018 Farm Bill.  And now, you can hear the farmers’ messages in their own words.

The Committee on Tuesday released a video testimony from its nationwide hearings that details the job-saving benefits of the public-private partnership of crop insurance to American farmers.

The one-minute clip takes viewers to testimony last year in Minnesota, New York, California, Florida, Texas and Illinois.

“Personally, I was involved in a hail storm this year where we lost the corn and the beans on one farm,” said one farmer. “We are not going to make any money at that this year, but we will be able to farm again next year because of those risk management tools.”

“Crop insurance is indispensable and all I am going to say here is, it is absolutely critical,” another added.

One farmer finished his testimony with a clear request to the Committee.

“I want to leave you with six easy words to remember,” he said.  “Crop Insurance. Safety net. No changes.”

Well said, farmers.  And thank you for your continued support.

ICYMI: Crop Insurance Protects Farming for Future Generations

Wheat farmers in the heartland are facing tough times. Prices have bottomed out, Mother Nature has been unrelenting and this year’s wheat harvest was well below average.

On our five-generation family farm in Sentinel, the story is no different. Our wheat acres were down just like nearly everybody else who grows the crop. And unfortunately, some economists are predicting things might get worse before they get better.

It’s in years like these that we can really appreciate the importance of the farm safety net, with federally supported crop insurance as its cornerstone. To be blunt, it would virtually be impossible to farm in western Oklahoma without crop insurance. And certainly impossible to secure the farm for future generations.

Crop insurance helps us manage risk and we are happy to pay into this safety net that kicks in when the worst happens. More often than not, farmers pay into the crop insurance system and don’t get anything back at all. And that is how we prefer it.

We are in the farming business and we take pride in our crops. We set out from the get-go to raise a crop the best we can. We want to get our money out of the marketplace, if we can. I tell my crop insurance agent, “I hope you don’t pay me a penny. I don’t want your money — I want it in the marketplace where it belongs.”

But in farming, there are no guarantees. And that is where crop insurance comes in. It won’t make up for a bad year, but it helps us to keep farming for another year.

It hasn’t always been this way. I have been farming for more than five decades and I remember quite well the days before we had an effective crop insurance program. For many years, natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly disaster bills. These bills were not only slow in arriving to the farm, but also fell flat on the laps of taxpayers.

With crop insurance, agents sell policies, insurance companies service them and the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program, making it affordable and widely available to all growers through aspects such as premium discounts.

For beginning farmers, having this protection is especially important. Many young farmers rely on banks for operating loans. And banks won’t make these loans without assurance that farmers would have a way to pay it back if Mother Nature strikes.

Farm policy critics, many of whom are paid anti-farm lobbyists, can be quick to criticize crop insurance. But ask anyone in farm country and they will tell you that putting limits on our most successful farm safety net tool is the last thing we can afford right now, especially given the current downturn.

I want to see my sons and grandsons continue our family tradition of farming. For this reason, and many others, I encourage you to join me in calling on our lawmakers in Washington to preserve and protect this important program as they continue to debate budgets and the upcoming farm bill. The future of farm country may very well depend on it.

Jimmie Musick, of Sentinel, is president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.​

This op-ed was published in The Oklahoman.

Thank a Farmer, It’s Thanksgiving and They Helped Make It Possible

As your family sits down to a Thanksgiving meal this week, take a look around at all the wonderful food and consider where it came from.

The sweet potatoes, peas, corn, rice and the wheat in the bread. The cranberries in the sauce and the sugar and pumpkin in the pie. The onions and tomatoes in the salad. The almonds that might be on your green beans.

American farmers brought all this to your table. This week, we are thankful for their hard work and the great risk they took in spending their time and money growing the food we enjoy as our Thanksgiving Day meal.

Just as we give thanks to farmers, they are thankful for the crop insurance that allows them to bring us a Thanksgiving meal every year.

Crop insurance covers most every crop that goes into the food on your table today – not to mention the clothes on your back.

In fact, it covers more than 130 different crops grown on 290 million acres in the United States with an insured value of $100 billion.

For the food made with crops that are not covered, we can all be thankful that crop insurance is built so it can expand as needed. Any farmer, or farm group, or university researcher can design an insurance tool to cover an uncovered crop and take it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for consideration.

And more and more growers want to make sure policies are tailored to their specific needs.  That’s because crop insurance is a cornerstone of America’s farm safety net that helps farmers pick up the pieces after a flood destroys their pumpkin fields or a storm knocks down all the corn stalks.

It’s not a handout. Just like with any other insurance, farmers pay premiums and must meet deductibles before policies cover losses. And those losses are investigated by trained adjusters.

Sure, the insurance doesn’t cover all of a farmer’s losses just like most car insurance won’t buy you a brand-new car after a wreck. But, crop insurance offers farmers a chance to stay in business year after year with unpredictable Mother Nature and volatile world prices.

For that, we should all be thankful.

ICYMI: Crop Insurance Critical for Farmers and Consumers

The Farm Bill debate is heating up in Washington and that has me thinking back to 2015.

We received way too much rainfall in central Missouri that spring and my family’s farm in Boone County, like many across the state, suffered big losses. We were only able to plant 40 out of our normal 500 acres of soybeans. Statewide, more than a million acres of soybeans went unplanted.

Without crop insurance, an event like that would have financially broken our farm.

It would have been nearly impossible to stay in business for the following year because of overhead costs like equipment and land, not to mention the input costs required to raise a crop that were already applied.

That was a tough year for my dad, Nathan, and me. We farm 1,000 acres raising corn, soybeans and occasionally small grains. My dad also runs a cow-calf operation.

Crop insurance, which is part of the farm bill, helped us that year but it doesn’t cover all of the costs. Prevented-planting coverage, in the 2015 example, only covered 60 percent of our per-acre revenue, minus the premium we paid.

But it’s certainly better than going out of business. And that’s something I hope Congress considers in the 2018 farm bill.

I grew up on a farm. I studied agricultural systems management at the University of Missouri and worked as a field test engineer for three years after college. I enjoyed it and was able to travel all over the United States and across parts of South America.

But you can only travel like that for so long, and I love farming. So, when an opportunity opened up back home I gladly returned to the family farm.

It’s an honor to grow food for America and the world. But it’s also much riskier than a paycheck from an employer, like when I worked as an engineer. Crop insurance for me, as a young producer, is a critical risk management tool.

Row crops especially are very capital intensive. The equipment, machinery, buildings and structures on the farm and the land all have costs. Then you add in costs like seed, fertilizer, pest protection and fuel, and it equals a significant investment per acre every year.

All of those dollars invested each year are subject to risk that farmers cannot control based upon the weather and the markets.

Crop insurance is a way we can mitigate risk and hopefully be able to continue to farm the following season if we do have a weather disaster that prevents us from being solvent.

Crop insurance is not unlike other forms of insurance. Whether it’s your automobile or health insurance, you don’t intend to ever have a claim or use the policy, but it’s a safety net when something goes wrong. It’s there as risk protection, and it’s something that is necessary to be successful in today’s farming operations.

That’s why it has become a cornerstone of the American farm safety net. It’s a public-private partnership that protects the investments farmers make in each crop and it protects taxpayers from costly disaster-relief bills.

It means when weather strikes in central Missouri, the insurance companies help cover the losses, not Congress. That’s why it is so strange that some lawmakers are angling to make crop insurance more expensive and less available.

I hope Congress remembers in the next farm bill that crop insurance is not only necessary for rural America, but that ultimately it protects the consumer. Without it, we would not be able to provide a safe, reliable and affordable food supply for America and the rest of the world.

Brian Martin raises corn, soybeans, and small grains with his father, Nathan, in Boone County, Missouri.

This op-ed was published in The Kansas City Star.

Farm Bureau President Urges Farmers to Speak Up for Crop Insurance

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), is urging farmers to make their voices heard as the next Farm Bill is being considered.

“Constantly communicate with (legislators) week in and week out,” he said during a recent visit to Indiana, where he met with members of the media.

“And then when these congressmen and senators and other representatives come to their community and have town hall meetings, our farmers need to get off their tractors and out of their barns and then need to be present,” Duvall added.

He also encouraged farmers to share their own stories.

“Farmers can be involved on social media and bring the truth to the surface,” Duvall said. “Invite people to come to the farm. Let them see for themselves. It’s so valuable to a mother, to a congressman, to see and ask questions about farms.”

Duvall said that if there is a fight over crop insurance funding, that kind of grassroots engagement is critical.

“We’ve got to make sure that we have congressmen and senators who understand the importance of crop insurance. Crop insurance is a requirement of most lending institutions today, and it is important to have that risk management tool there for our farmers,” Duvall said.

Maintaining a strong crop insurance program in the upcoming Farm Bill is a top priority of the Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest farm organization.

“The cornerstone of the 2014 farm bill was crop insurance,” Duvall said. “Our first need and want [in the next Farm Bill] is to maintain that support of our crop insurance program, to make sure our farmers have that risk management tool.”

Duvall’s visit to the Hoosier State was part of his commitment to visit farmers in every state during his first two years.

Wheat Growers Voice Support for Crop Insurance

Opponents of agriculture recently gathered in Washington, D.C., to strategize for ways to dismantle farm policies in the upcoming Farm Bill.

Crop insurance was among their targets – specifically making insurance protection less affordable and available to farmers, and less economically viable for the private sector to deliver.

Many agriculture groups, including the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), cried foul, calling the farm policy critic summit short-sighted and ultimately harmful the farming community and a struggling rural economy.

David Schemm, NAWG’s president and Kansas farmer, said that critics fail to consider challenges unique to agriculture, including lower rates of return and weather-related risks.

In addition, American farmers also compete with foreign countries that use trade-distorting support programs that violate their World Trade Organization (WTO) commitments.

“Rural America and farming families are experiencing some of the worst economic hardships in decades. Now isn’t the time to implement policies that harm these families and stump economic growth,” Schemm said.

Ben Adams, a farmer and president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), also weighed in. He explained that farmers pay premiums into the program each year with the hope of not collecting an indemnity.

“It is very misleading to consider federal crop insurance a hand-out when its purpose is to provide a risk management tool when unforeseeable conditions arise,” Adams said.

Adams noted that recently eastern Washington farmers have experienced weather conditions that have greatly harmed their bottom lines.

“Crop insurance does not generate excess income, but rather it aids in recovering some of the loss so that we might be able to farm another year,” Adams said.

The wheat groups called on Congress to “ignore the rhetoric” of farm critics during the 2018 Farm Bill debate and to continue working with farmers during the process.

“In order to provide a safe, abundant and affordable food supply, farmers across the country need a strong safety net. And that includes federal crop insurance,” the groups concluded.

Guest Editorials Stress Importance of Crop Insurance to Nation’s Farmers

As Farm Bill discussions continue, so do the misguided attacks on America’s farm policy. But the ag community is making its voice heard, taking to newspaper opinion pages across the country to stress the indispensable role crop insurance plays in helping American farmers provide affordable food for America and the world.

Dorian Culver, a soybean farmer and crop insurance agent from from Harrisonville, Missouri, said that crop insurance is more important than ever in a guest column appearing in The Columbia Daily Tribune.

He pointed out that in addition to the typical weather rollercoaster, farmers are facing another year of low prices. Meanwhile, input costs (farm equipment, fertilizer, land rent, etc.) remain the same.

“It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that the numbers just aren’t adding up for our nation’s farmers,” Culver wrote.

Culver, a lifelong farmer, said that he hasn’t seen this kind of downturn since the farm crisis of the 1980s. But thankfully, a few things have changed since then that puts us in a better position to weather this latest storm.

“One of the most important developments is the emergence of a strong crop insurance program,” Culver wrote.

According to Culver, a strong crop insurance program protects not only farmers, but everyone who eats. He said that farm policy critics would do well to remember that every American consumer relies on agriculture.

“Access to affordable crop insurance allows American farmers to continue to provide affordable food for America and the world. Without it, I can guarantee you it wouldn’t take long for it to hit everyone’s pocketbook at the grocery store,” Culver wrote.

Culver called on lawmakers in Washington to also keep this in mind as they develop the next Farm Bill and to work together preserve a strong crop insurance program.

“After all, as the famous saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And that’s something none of us can afford,” Culver concluded.

G. Bradford Reeves, a longtime crop insurance agent from Leonardtown, Maryland, also discussed the importance of the crop insurance program in a letter to the editor that appeared in The Enterprise recently.

Reeves’ letter, “Keep crop insurance affordable in Southern Maryland,” recalls a time when crop insurance wasn’t as widely available and affordable as it is today.

“When bad weather hit, farmers had to ask Congress for help through ad-hoc disaster legislation. Taxpayers had to cover the cost and famers waited years for much-needed relief arrive,” Reeves wrote.

Reeves noted that public-private partnership of modern crop insurance eliminates some of the stress that comes from working in agriculture. But even with the modern crop insurance we have today, many farmers are still struggling to break even.

Reeves called on lawmakers to “remember this program is the only thing standing between bankruptcy and the ability to plant again for many Maryland growers. And they should appreciate that crop insurance is not a handout.”

Reeves noted farmers across the country have collectively spent $50 billion out of their own pockets in the last 17 years for coverage. They also absorb the first 25 percent of any loss before their coverage kicks in.

“Our farmers want to be out in the field planting the crops and harvesting them to sell at market for a reasonable price. The best way to give them the chance to do that is to keep crop insurance affordable and widely available in the next Farm Bill,” Reeves concluded.

Texas and Minnesota Farmers Praise Crop Insurance During Listening Sessions

The House Agriculture Committee has been crisscrossing the country this summer to visit with farmers and ranchers about their priorities in the upcoming Farm Bill. These listening sessions have been extensive, and Committee members have touted their usefulness.

Following the most recent forum in California this week, Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) addressed the sugar industry’s annual meeting in San Diego.

“One of the common themes on the listening sessions has been the importance of crop insurance,” he told the sugar producers. “Over and over and over we’ve had that conversation with folks.”

What’s Cropping Up was interested in what Agriculture Committee members have been hearing, so we watched nearly five hours of footage of sessions in San Angelo, Texas, and Morgan, Minnesota.

The Chairman’s assessment was correct. Crop insurance has been front and center. Below is a sampling of what was said about farmers’ primary risk management tool.

“Crop insurance is so vital to this state; so vital to every crop in (Texas). Whether it be corn, wheat, or cotton – all of the crops come very much into play when it comes to crop insurance.”
Russell Boening, president, Texas Farm Bureau

“Farmers, ag leaders, equipment dealers – everyone involved in agriculture – agrees that crop insurance should remain a viable and affordable tool for managing risk.”
Richard Gaona, president, Rolling Plains Cotton Growers

“How can I and my fellow farmers stay in business? Number 1 (priority) is crop insurance. … Crop insurance is indispensable.”
Ben Scholz, National Association of Wheat Growers

“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.”
Kyle Peterson, chairman, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative

“Farmers borrow more in one 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.”
Kyle Peterson, chairman, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative

“When there’s a crop loss, there’s going to be a loss of income on the farm but with a good crop insurance program, and working capital, we may help them farm another year.”
Howard Olsen, AgCountry Farm Credit Services

“I was involved in a hailstorm this year where we lost the corn and the bean crop on one farm. With crop insurance, we’re not going to make any money at that this year, but I am going to be able to farm again next year because of risk management tools.”
Kevin Paap, president, Minnesota Farm Bureau

“Crop insurance – please protect it. Crop insurance is so vitally important. … It is a key component to obtaining credit.”
Bruce Peterson, Minnesota Corn Growers

“Crop insurance is so important to me. We have three families directly that drive income from our farm and if we did not have crop insurance we would not be able to survive.”
Noah Hultgren, Minnesota Corn Growers

ICYMI: US farmers rely on crop insurance

By: Rex Williamson
Published in The Columbus Dispatch
July 26, 2017

My family has been in agriculture in northwest Ohio for generations. My great-grandfather, grandfather, and dad farmed. I followed in their footsteps.

It was a great blessing. We were taught to love and appreciate hard work, and we learned to work as a family.

I carried this same work ethic into my own business 30 years ago, when I decided to leave the family farm and go into crop insurance full time. Today, my son runs the company and I help him. My wife is still involved, as is my daughter. It is a true family business and is rewarding for all of us.

I know firsthand that families devote vast amounts of financial resources, time and energy to growing the food that feeds the world. I also know firsthand that farming is extremely risky. The 1980s provided periods of challenging weather and prolonged low commodity prices.

Back then, farmers had to go to Congress and ask for ad-hoc relief bills. Taxpayers had to cover the cost and it often took years for farmers to get relief. It wasn’t a fair system so Congress asked the private insurance sector to help solve the problem.

Thankfully, we now have modern crop insurance that eliminates much of the stress that comes from competing with Mother Nature and volatile markets. Revenue coverage allows a farmer to market grain well before harvest and take advantage of profitable sales opportunities that are often not available at or after harvest. Revenue coverage would have been a great blessing for Ohio farmers during the 1980s, when ongoing low commodity prices took a huge toll on grain farms.

In my insurance business, I help farmers purchase policies that are uniquely tailored to their operations. When disaster strikes, a private-sector claims adjuster verifies the loss just like any other insurance product. Farmers pay their premiums, shoulder their deductibles and get checks in weeks, not years.

It is important for policymakers to understand the part about farmers paying for coverage. This is not a handout. Farmers across the country have collectively spent $50 billion out of their own pockets in the past 17 years for coverage. They also absorb the first 25 percent, on average, of any loss before their coverage kicks in.

Congress is starting its debate on the new Farm Bill, which sets out rules for crop insurance.

Our policymakers often agree that coverage for natural disasters like wind, hail and drought are critical and appropriate. But the debate often focuses on whether revenue coverage is really needed. I can assure you this product has become a critical tool that is equally as important as the amazing technological advancements that have made our farms the most efficient and productive in the world.

I urge Congress to keep in place the system of crop insurance we have today and allow it to expand to meet new demands.

ICYMI: This much is certain: For farmers, crop insurance is essential

There are a number of certainties in life. I know, for example, that every morning on my farm, the sun will rise in the east, and that every evening it will dip beneath the west horizon. And we know Iowa summers will be warm, the winters will be harsh and when the soil has thawed, spring growth will begin anew.

But a life of farming is also full of uncertainties. We can’t control the markets, nor the role Mother Nature will play in bringing our crops to harvest. Let me tell you, farmers are always in a constant negotiation with Mother Nature. Some years, Mother Nature is a farmer’s best friend. In other years, it can be our worst enemy. And in those years, there is no substitute for the risk protection that crop insurance provides.

Crop insurance allows farmers to pay a premium to alleviate some degree some of the uncertainties involved in farming. A crop insurance check will never come close to what a farmer can get from a bountiful harvest, but it does provide some peace of mind.

I’ve been farming for almost four decades and have witnessed firsthand the difference crop insurance can make. In fact, in 1977, my first year full-time farming, we suffered a major drought that resulted in a pitiful 28-bushel corn yield. Crop insurance and other assistance is what kept me going after that first disastrous year.

As president of the Iowa Farm Bureau for the past five years, and a member for many years prior to that, I also have also had the opportunity learn why crop insurance works. It succeeds, in no small part, because of its diverse participation. By spreading the chance of loss among a wide and varied group of insured farmers, premiums become less expensive for everyone. It’s a concept known as a “risk pool” and it is what makes things like auto insurance and homeowners insurance work, too. None of these programs would work if only a few folks participated.

But it hasn’t always been this way. Farm leaders across the country have worked with legislators effectively in recent years to strengthen crop insurance by expanding the size of the “risk pool” through encouraging and incentivizing increased participation. If you need evidence that this approached worked, just look at the numbers.

Today, almost 90 percent of farm acres in the U.S. are covered by crop insurance. It has become the primary safety net for today’s farmer.  Because of this, it has also become one of the biggest targets for anti-farm policy critics.

Crop insurance’s detractors — many whom have never negotiated with Mother Nature — often weave a tale about farmers resting on our laurels and laughing all the way to the bank. But that’s all it is: a tall tale. These critics are especially prone to calling out a policy known as revenue protection, which shields farmers in periods of extreme market volatility. But crop insurance, no matter what type, is far from a handout. And having revenue protection doesn’t necessarily equal an indemnity payment, even in years with low crop prices. In 2015, for example, of total indemnities paid to growers, including revenue protection as well as coverage from weather events, only 3 percent were the result of low prices.

The safety net that crop insurance provides is essential and is more important now than ever before. Not only does the average American farm feed about 168 people worldwide, but one in five Iowans go to work because of agriculture. But our farm economy has seen better days, with farm income projected to decrease again.

Farming is a tough job and perils are many, especially in today’s environment. Crop insurance provides a measure of stability and is an investment in both today’s farm economy and our future.

Without it, we’d have a whole lot less American farmers growing affordable food for America and the world. That much is certain.

Craig Hill of Milo is the president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. His family grows corn and soybeans and raises livestock.

Farmer’s Daughter USA: Crop Insurance Vital to Keeping Family Farm Afloat This Year

In a blog post appearing in Ag Daily, Farmer’s Daughter USA founder Amanda Zaluckyj shines light on the critical role crop insurance has played in keeping her family’s southwest Michigan farm afloat in 2016— one of those years where “everything just seems to go wrong.”

Zaluckyj says the problems on her family’s farm started early on, with a wet spring and flooding that delayed planting. Then, when the growing season got underway, her family found themselves facing the opposite problem—bone-dry fields.

Because of the adverse weather conditions, their corn yields have taken a huge hit. While many folks are posting their impressive harvest pics to social media, there will be no proud pics from the Zaluckyj farm this year, nor a bumper crop.

“But thanks to crop insurance, one bad season doesn’t (necessarily) mean our farm is going to go under,” Zaluckyj writes.

Zaluckyj praises crop insurance as effective because of its unique mix of government and private enterprise and proper oversight, as well as wide availability and required conservation practices.

Zaluckyj notes that the success of the crop insurance program was recognized during passage of the 2014 Farm Bill.

“While other farm support programs, such as direct payments, were completely eliminated or reduced, the crop insurance program was expanded. The 2014 changes included providing new options for farmers that face prolonged years of drought or other severe weather conditions,” she writes.

Crop insurance is essential to farming, Zaluckyj says, because unlike other businesses, these are more than market principles at work.

“Crop insurance will in no way be the same as having a good year with favorable weather conditions and high corn yields. But it will keep our family farm afloat. It means that (most of) the bills will get paid, we will still have a roof over our heads, and our family will survive to farm another year. To me, supporting, protecting, and preserving family farms is the mark of a good program,” Zaluckyj concludes.

To view Zaluckyj’s blog post in its entirety, click here.

Amanda Zaluckyj is a Michigan farmer’s daughter and a practicing attorney. She is founder of The Farmer’s Daughter USA blog, which aims help consumers better understand where our food comes from.

What They are Saying About Crop Insurance

With 297 million acres of farmland covered by crop insurance, this risk management tool has become an integral part of the farm safety net for American producers. Policies are available for more than 120 crops for farmers of all operation sizes in all states. This is a fact that farmers, policymakers, lenders, and other agricultural leaders all recognize and appreciate. Below is a look at what people are saying about crop insurance and its importance in maintaining strong agricultural production in this country.

“One of the least understood points about crop insurance is that it’s not just for farmers. That’s how we as farmers talk about it, that it’s a way to keep us in business when we suffer a catastrophic loss. That it’s a way to protect our yearly investment when things go wrong. That is all true, of course, but we don’t explain that it is also insurance for every consumer.” – Zach Hunnicutt, Nebraska farmer

“The important message we can talk about is, keep crop insurance whole. It is worth the investment of the federal government in helping farmers manage the risk.” – Todd Van Hoose, CEO & President, Farm Credit Council

“The truth is that crop insurance is a highly successful public-private partnership between the federal government and private insurance companies. It functions as a risk management tool for farmers to mitigate the numerous risks – financial, meteorological or the like – that they take to produce the finest food and fiber in the world.” – Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)

“The program keeps family farms in the family, even after a bad year, and provides a safety net that allows beginning farmers to pursue their dream of farming…. Federal crop insurance has become an essential part of the farm safety net due to its ability to provide dependable protection and grow with the needs of farmers and ranchers.” – Brandon Willis, Risk Management Agency Administrator

“Crop insurance and farm policy enables everyone – from the farmer to the banker to the taxpayer – to plan for those disasters and overcome them when they happen. If lawmakers continue to try and chip away at this safety net, farmers will not have the ability to survive. This is especially true for young, beginning farmers that have less access to credit and capital.” – Larry Kummer, Indiana farmer

“As farmers, we have no control over weather. We have no control over markets. We have no control over our foreign competitors. We cannot just turn our operations on or off. We have to take care of the land 365 days a year. We need a safety net when commodity prices fall. We need affordable and reliable crop insurance to protect our yearly investments.” – Jeremy Brown, Texas farmer

“We still have land and equipment payments to make regardless of whether we have a good or bad growing season, or whether a natural disaster wipes out our crops altogether. Crop insurance is something we purchase each year to manage this risk and we only receive an indemnity when we suffer a verifiable loss. Even then, it doesn’t make us whole, but it does soften the blow from a bad year.” – Lorraine Greco, California farmer

“This is why having a sufficient farm safety net — with crop insurance as the cornerstone — is more critical than ever. Crop insurance provides protection against the one thing that even the most resilient farmer cannot defeat — the wrath of Mother Nature.” – Scott VanderWal, Vice President of the American Farm Bureau Federation

ICYMI: Farm policy, crop insurance wise investments for all Americans

Although I was born and raised on a farm, the standing rule in our house was I had to spend two years after college pursuing other things. This was not to discourage me from continuing the family farming tradition. Rather, my father wanted to make certain I knew what kind of life I was signing up for. Perhaps another job elsewhere would provide me with greater financial security and stability than one that was beholden to the weather, markets, foreign subsidies, and even lawmakers in Congress.

I recognized the wisdom in my father’s counsel, but after a couple of years, I knew I wanted to get back to the farm. By then I was married and the thought of raising my family in a small, rural town, combined with returning to the family farm, appealed to me. I have been farming on my own for the past nine years.

What I have learned during this time is this: farming is an enormous game of risk management. It’s not if something bad is going to happen, it’s when. I was aware of this reality growing up, but I fully appreciate it now that I am working to sustain my own farm and support my own family.

Droughts, floods, hailstorms, high input prices, unpredictable commodity prices, the uncertainty of what will come out of Washington whether it is talk of cutting the farm safety net during the life of a farm bill or applying a new regulation that increases the cost of doing business; in addition to competing with foreign governments that cheat on their commitments to free trade and fair markets. These are the challenges that farmers face every year. It is a life that is rife with risk and uncertainty.

Today’s depressed farm economy is a prime example. Commodity prices are half what they were a few years ago while the cost of doing business has not followed the same trend. The financial situation for many farming operations all across the country has deteriorated fast and many lenders are nervous about providing financing.

This is why we need strong farm policy and crop insurance to help us manage things beyond our control like a natural disaster or a collapse in commodity prices.

One of the least understood points about crop insurance is that it’s not just for farmers. That’s how we as farmers talk about it, that it’s a way to keep us in business when we suffer a catastrophic loss. That it’s a way to protect our yearly investment when things go wrong.

That is all true, of course, but we don’t explain that it is also insurance for every consumer.

Just look at the drought of 2012 – one of the worst droughts on record – that devastated most of the country. There were times in our nation’s history when that kind of devastation would have put thousands of farmers out of business, especially beginning farmers like me, because farm policy and crop insurance wasn’t what it is today. But, that didn’t happen in 2012. Those risk management tools gave us the ability to stay in business, to make it another year. It provided banks with assurance that operating loans would be repaid despite large losses, and in the process it enabled us to keep a stable and affordable food supply for all American consumers because we were able to begin again.

What affects the farmer will affect the consumer. The tools that help farmers stay viable from year to year and decade to decade, allows consumers to get what they need and want in the grocery stores.

We’re all in this together. We have to remember that fact when Congress begins reauthorizing the next farm bill or some lawmaker in D.C. proposes an arbitrary and irresponsible cut to farm policy and crop insurance. These risk management tools serve us all, especially the next generation of farmers. They are a sound and wise investment for America.

Zach Hunnicutt is a fifth-generation farmer from Giltner who raises corn, soybeans, popcorn, seed corn and milo.  This op-ed appeared in the Grand Island Independent on June 17, 2016. 

Crop Insurance is a ‘Well-Run’ Public-Private Partnership

The role of federal crop insurance has grown significantly through the years and it is now the key risk management tool for farmers all across the country. With this greater role comes a greater responsibility to ensure the program is working as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Part of this responsibility includes making certain that when a farmer does suffer a verifiable loss and files a claim, the indemnity payment is processed quickly and sent to the right recipient with the correct amount. In other words, making certain that there are no improper payments. This is important for the farmer who is counting on timely assistance after a catastrophic event and it’s important for taxpayers who demand program integrity.

And, new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency (RMA) reveals that crop insurance stands as an example of a successful, properly-managed public-private partnership.

During the recent annual meeting of crop insurers, RMA administrator Brandon Willis announced that the error payment rate has improved by more than 50 percent from 5.5 percent in 2014 to 2.2 percent in 2015. By way of comparison, the average error rate government-wide was 4 percent.

“This demonstrates that the crop insurance program can withstand the scrutiny,” Willis said. “It’s a good story. It tells the story that crop insurance is a well-run program with an error rate far below the government average.”

An improper payment occurs when funds go to the wrong recipient, the right recipient receives the incorrect amount of funds, including being paid too much or too little, or the recipient uses funds in an improper manner. And, as Willis noted, many errors are simply rooted in data entry and reporting mistakes.

Perennial critics of farm policy have often cast crop insurance in a negative light pointing to any error payment rate as an excuse to cut, or even, gut the program. As a result, RMA, crop insurers, and even Congress have worked together to improve the error payment rate through the years.

In fact, as former RMA administrator, Kenneth D. Ackerman recently wrote in a blog post, “RMA’s eye-catching new 2.2 percent ‘improper payment’ rate for 2015 was no fluke. Rather, it was the product of a long-term commitment and years of work by a wide range of people who deserve credit for sticking to it.”

Going forward, the crop insurance industry will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure the accountability and integrity of this critical risk management tool that farmers and consumers rely upon to maintain a steady and affordable food and fiber supply.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Greg Wegis, Bakersfield, California

Greg 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 that 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.

ICYMI: Crop Insurance Can Help Keep Multi-Generational Farms Within the Family

My farm has been in my family since the mid-1800s. I have seen firsthand how farming has changed over the decades. It is certainly more expensive to farm than when my parents and grandparents and great-great grandparents farmed the land, but one thing hasn’t changed in more than 150 years: farming is an unpredictable business.

Farmers can’t predict the future, but we can make a genuine effort to be smart, informed business owners. We try to make the right decisions and work with what we have. The problem is when ‘what we have to work with’ is ripped out from underneath us. Without crop insurance, many farmers wouldn’t be able to keep farming. Cutting crop insurance would be pulling the rug from underneath agriculture.

Before the modern day crop insurance system, farmers relied on ad hoc disaster relief payments. This was a costly and unpredictable option for all of us – the government, the taxpayer and the farmer, who in some cases may have received a payment too late to avoid bankruptcy.

Congress agreed that crop insurance was the best risk management tool for farmers. In the 2014 Farm Bill, they implemented a crop insurance system that ensured farmers would have access to affordable crop insurance while removing the risk from the taxpayer. In stride, farmers have made operating decisions with the assumption that all the policies of this bill would be in place until the Farm Bill expires in 2018.

Now, in 2015, this proven risk management tool, crop insurance, is in front of the firing squad. I’m not certain why some Members of Congress are willing to turn their backs on farmers now. Washington is nearly 900 miles away from my family farm. From that distance, it may be easy to assume that cuts to farm programs, like crop insurance, would have no effect on farmers, but that’s not an accurate picture.

Crop insurance is the only safety net that most farmers have anymore. Nearly all the cropland in the United States is protected by crop insurance. In Wisconsin, a majority of crop acres are insured, including grain commodities and specialty crops.

Insurance not only allows farmers to face natural disasters and damaging production years without losing everything, but it provides assurance that we can make payments to our banks. The same way any person in this country cannot get a house loan or a car loan without proof of insurance, agricultural banks want the guarantee that farmers can make their payments.

The agriculture economy is struggling. Farm income continues to decline, crop prices are down and inputs continue to rise. The 2015-16 farm year may be a make or break year for many farmers who are ending the year in the red. Forty years ago, a farmer could lose a crop one year and still farm the next. Nowadays one crop loss could end someone’s farming career. In the current state of agriculture, we can’t afford to have another leg chopped off our stool that’s already leaning.

My wife and I have risked our livelihood to maintain the farm for our children and grandchildren, just as my parents and grandparents did for us. Without crop insurance, we would have to quit farming. For the events we can’t predict, crop insurance ensures we won’t lose our multi-generational family farm.

Darrell Crapp is a farmer from Lancaster, Wisconsin. He farms in partnership with his two sons.  This op-ed appeared in the Prairie du Chien Courier Press on January 20, 2016.

Hollis, Oklahoma farmer: Affordable crop insurance is critical

I started farming and ranching with my father and grandfather in southwest Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle 40 years ago, and I am the fourth generation to farm cotton, peanuts, wheat, corn, milo and cattle on our family’s land.

I was 17 when I started farming on my own, and although I have four decades of experience under my belt, the many issues we face today on the family farm — worked by me, my son, my brother-in-law and my son-in-law — are no less challenging than they were when I began. In most careers, things get easier as you move along. In farming, since the weather and prices are so unpredictable, it really never gets easier.

With few risk management tools available in the early days, it could take years to recover from a hailstorm, an early freeze or any of the many other natural perils that could be thrown at you. When I first learned of crop insurance, I didn’t purchase it because premiums were unaffordable and margins were too slim to afford it. Thankfully, Congress made crop insurance more available and affordable — by partially discounting the premium — and now I wouldn’t farm without it.

Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, crop insurance is the best tool farmers have to manage risks and revenue. It’s not cheap, but it is something that we budget for annually and can’t imagine not having.

The key to crop insurance’s success has been its affordability, its availability and its viability. Last year, farmers spent nearly $4 billion on crop insurance policies that protected 90 percent of planted cropland in the United States. I’d bet that many of the farmers in our area wouldn’t be surviving the current drought — which started in 2011 — if it wasn’t for crop insurance.

Despite the fact that agriculture’s safety net programs took a huge cut in the last farm bill, some in Congress seem to think we need to give more. I wonder if some of those people have any idea where their food and clothes come from or what it takes to get it from the farm to their plate or closet.

It seems almost daily that someone in Congress is proposing a bill to cut the premium support on crop insurance. It would not serve anyone to cut these risk management tools to farmers, as they allow farmers to concentrate on producing higher-yielding, better-quality crops that reduce the costs to the consumer.

Crop insurance is not a gift but insurance, just like homeowner’s insurance, that farmers buy. And like homeowner’s insurance, we don’t collect a dime without a verifiable loss and paying a deductible. Without crop insurance, many farmers couldn’t get financed and it would be almost impossible for a beginning farmer to get started.

Crop insurance is critical in meeting these challenges, and guarantees the American consumer a safe, affordable supply of quality food and fiber that is unsurpassed anywhere in the world.

Kelly Horton lives in Hollis, Oklahoma.  This op-ed appeared in The Oklahoman on May 17, 2015.

Why Farmers Need Crop Insurance

Matt HuieI always knew I was going to be a farmer. I grew up learning from my grandfather who turned me loose and gave me a lot of responsibility on his farm from a young age. I was driving machinery by the time I was 10-years-old and running my own harvest crew by the time I was 14.

When I was in school, I entertained being a veterinarian and farming on the side mainly because people told me it was a tough life and I wouldn’t be able to make a living.

That kind of talk only made me more determined, so when I came home from college I started farming full-time despite the fact that I barely had a dollar to my name and farming is a capital-intensive business.

I remember the first time I went to borrow money, my banker asked me right off if

I had crop insurance and how much was the coverage. I was prepared to answer those questions as crop insurance was then, and remains today, my primary risk management tool. I wouldn’t think of trying to grow a crop without it.

It’s essential — especially for young farmers, like I was at the time, just starting an operation.

It enables farmers to get financing and also enables them to survive a major catastrophic weather event.

Young farmers are particularly vulnerable to such risks because they are more leveraged than more established farmers. They can’t afford a major hit in their finances or a year without any income.

Just look at my state of Texas where we have suffered a historic drought for the last five years. 2012 and 2013 were particularly bad.

Without crop insurance, this sustained drought would have wiped out an entire generation of farmers. They would not have had the means to make it to another year without something to at least help cover part of the losses. That’s why it is critical that crop insurance remain affordable and widely available.

Thankfully the 2014 Farm Bill strengthened crop insurance and added provisions to help beginning farmers. But, the critics of farm policy, including some lawmakers in Congress, never seem to rest and are already clamoring once again for cuts.

They would be wise to take note of an alarming trend that puts the average age of a U.S. farmer at 58. Moreover, in 2012, the number of beginning farmers – those operating fewer than 10 years – was down 20 percent from 2007.

My desire to farm at such a young age is the exception, not the rule. Many young people can’t stomach the risk that is involved and have no desire to try.

Cuts to the farm safety net only make an inherently risky business, riskier. The expense of raising crops, the perils of weather-related disasters, and the low returns on investment, are enough to make anyone run in the other, more secure direction.

Now is not the time to create barriers at the starting point of farming and ranching. Now is the time to give certainty to young people with farm policy they can afford and count on.

Matt Huie farms cotton, corn, sorghum, and livestock in Southeast Texas near Corpus Christi.  This op-ed appeared in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times on May 17, 2015. 

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

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: Bill Christ, Metamora, Illinois

For those who have ever visited America’s Corn Belt, they know that the region has soil and climatic conditions for growing corn and soybeans.   “And our farmers are hardworking, committed and driven to produce record crops every year,” notes farmer and crop insurance agent Bill Christ.

In the past, when drought would occasionally come, “many hardworking farmers watched their crops wither and their dreams blow away with the dust, because they didn’t have a backup plan in place in case something like this happened,” said Christ.

Today, most farmers purchase crop insurance, which ensures that when drought or flood or early freeze visits our region, farmers have some level of protection to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve spent trying to raise a crop.

“The droughts in the 1980s taught the area farmers that if they relied on disaster payments and subsidized federal loans to bounce back from natural disasters, they were going to eventually fall on their faces,” he said.   On the other hand, crop insurance, which today protects 94 percent of planted cropland in the U.S, combines the resources of the federal government with the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the private sector.

Crop insurance allows individual farmers to purchase the coverage they need, tailored to their farms, their financial standing and their tolerance to risk.  “Crop insurance has become indispensable because farming is so expensive that banks are afraid to make production loans without a crop insurance policy as collateral,” said Christ.   “That way, if the crop fails, the bank, and the farmer, have something to fall back on.”

Christ says he’ll never forget the drought of 2012.   “Farmers calmly walked their fields, yet inside, we all knew we were heading for big trouble,” he said.  Well before the harvest, the corn was burning up and the plants themselves were stunted.   In some parts of the state, corn crops were condemned but the plants were so small they could hardly be chopped for silage.

But unlike previous droughts I had witnessed, there was a sense of optimism in the farmers I knew.  “They were more upbeat and positive because they had adequate protection and that they could bounce back,” he said.  “And guess what?  Everyone bounced back in 2013 and produced an enormous harvest for the nation.”

In 2014, Illinois farmers spent $302 million out to purchase 124,000 crop insurance policies protecting 19 million acres valued at nearly $11 billion.

Christ notes that we live in one of the richest nations in the world and virtually anything you want to eat is right at your fingertips.  “But that doesn’t occur by accident,” he says.  “It’s possible due to good farm policies and hardworking farmers, who together produce the cheapest and most reliable food in the world.”

It’s up to us to explain the importance of crop insurance

It was 2010 and I was expecting to harvest my best crop. I had done everything right and the weather had been kind. Or so I thought. Then on a late October night, it hailed for six hours and what was anticipated to be my best crop year turned into nothing. But the worst of it was yet to come. It stopped raining. It stopped for 336 days straight. It kicked off what would be the worst drought since the 1950s. The conditions would improve slightly, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that for the last five years, my part of the world—West Texas—has essentially been on fire.

Mother Nature is the toughest, most unpredictable boss. Farmers are resilient and they adapt, but a safety net is crucial to their survival. And, it’s not a safety net if it’s not affordable.

That’s what today’s crop insurance offers farmers. A safety net that is both affordable and widely available. It’s what’s helped me make it to the next year.

That hasn’t always been the case. When crop insurance got its start in the 1930s, it was a poorly run government program. It hobbled along through the 60s and 70s, but the premiums were too high so the participation was low with limited available coverage. Farmers mainly relied on costly ad hoc disaster assistance when natural disasters wiped out their crops.

It was so ineffective that the Secretary of Agriculture, Bob Bergland, told Congress in 1977 that disaster programs “are for the most part…a disaster.” This gave birth to the Federal Crop Insurance Act of 1980 that created a successful public-private partnership that remains today. Since then there have been other pieces of legislation along the way that have made additional improvements to the delivery and mechanics of crop insurance with the most recent being the 2014 farm bill.

Sadly, there are some who don’t know or understand the history and improvements that have taken place through the years. Meanwhile, there are others who are bent on attacking farm policy regardless.

I was reminded of this on a recent visit to Washington, D.C. where I met with lawmakers and staff on behalf of producers across the country. Each time I visit I am struck by how important outreach is to ensure agriculture remains successful in this country and that crop insurance remains a viable, affordable and widely available safety net for farmers and ranchers.

I tend to walk away both encouraged and discouraged by my visits. I am encouraged because there are some who understand the challenges that we face and discouraged because there is always more to be done. The battle never ends, and we need more voices in support of American agriculture.

Our form of government requires participation. When we don’t show up and tell our story then, without a doubt, someone who doesn’t understand or care about production agriculture and the importance of crop insurance will fill the void.

We’ve each sat in the tractor cab or with our neighbors in the coffee shop and talked to ourselves about how to make things better, but that’s not the way to drive real change in Washington or anywhere else. Sometimes you have to get off the tractor and reach out beyond those circles in your own community.

We can’t assume policymakers understand the anxiety we feel when we’re days away from harvesting a good crop and it’s destroyed in a matter of minutes by something beyond our control. We can’t assume policymakers know the one thing that enables us to start again is crop insurance. It’s up to us to tell them.

Wade Cowan is the president of the American Soybean Association. He farms soybeans, guar, cotton, wheat and grain sorghum in West Texas.  This op-ed appeared in the High Plains Journal on April 6, 2015.

Ag Groups Ready to Work Together to Defend Crop Insurance

Representatives of several Washington, D.C.-based agricultural groups voiced their strong support for crop insurance during the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Crop Insurers and the National Crop Insurance Services.

The session was designed to give crop insurers perspective not only from Capitol Hill, but also from farmers across the country.  “We want crop insurance for all commodities in all states. It’s very clear every commodity wants to have crop insurance,” said American Farm Bureau Federation’s Mary Kay Thatcher.

“Our farming members are by and large very happy with the crop insurance options in front of them,” added Bev Paul of the American Soybean Association.

The message was consistent with a letter that more than 30 groups sent to Congressional committees recently expressing disappointment in the president’s budget proposal that undermined crop insurance. The groups encouraged Congressional leaders to look elsewhere when they prepare their own budget plans.

In the letter, they explained “budget levels currently in place for crop insurance ensure the affordability and availability of risk protection, while maintaining the viability of private-sector delivery.”

Indeed, these three tenets of affordability, availability and viability were mentioned as the key to keeping the crop insurance system working effectively and efficiently. Another takeaway from panelists was the importance of sticking together and building alliances to make sure crop insurers can continue to offer a variety of options to farmers.

“Our focus in the years to come will be defending what we have,” said Robbie Minnich of the National Cotton Council of America.

Crop Insurance in Action: Bill Christ, Metamora, Illinois

For those who have ever visited America’s Corn Belt, they know that the region has soil and climatic conditions for growing corn and soybeans.   “And our farmers are hardworking, committed and driven to produce record crops every year,” notes farmer and crop insurance agent Bill Christ.

In the past, when drought would occasionally come, “many hardworking farmers watched their crops wither and their dreams blow away with the dust, because they didn’t have a backup plan in place in case something like this happened,” said Christ.

Today, most farmers purchase crop insurance, which ensures that when drought or flood or early freeze visits our region, farmers have some level of protection to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve spent trying to raise a crop.

“The droughts in the 1980s taught the area farmers that if they relied on disaster payments and subsidized federal loans to bounce back from natural disasters, they were going to eventually fall on their faces,” he said.   On the other hand, crop insurance, which today protects 94 percent of planted cropland in the U.S, combines the resources of the federal government with the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the private sector.

Crop insurance allows individual farmers to purchase the coverage they need, tailored to their farms, their financial standing and their tolerance to risk.  “Crop insurance has become indispensable because farming is so expensive that banks are afraid to make production loans without a crop insurance policy as collateral,” said Christ.   “That way, if the crop fails, the bank, and the farmer, have something to fall back on.”

Christ says he’ll never forget the drought of 2012.   “Farmers calmly walked their fields, yet inside, we all knew we were heading for big trouble,” he said.  Well before the harvest, the corn was burning up and the plants themselves were stunted.   In some parts of the state, corn crops were condemned but the plants were so small they could hardly be chopped for silage.

But unlike previous droughts I had witnessed, there was a sense of optimism in the farmers I knew.  “They were more upbeat and positive because they had adequate protection and that they could bounce back,” he said.  “And guess what?  Everyone bounced back in 2013 and produced an enormous harvest for the nation.”

In 2014, Illinois farmers spent $302 million out to purchase 124,000 crop insurance policies protecting 19 million acres valued at nearly $11 billion.

Christ notes that we live in one of the richest nations in the world and virtually anything you want to eat is right at your fingertips.  “But that doesn’t occur by accident,” he says.  “It’s possible due to good farm policies and hardworking farmers, who together produce the cheapest and most reliable food in the world.”

Crop Insurance Is Important to Kansas Farmers

For farmers, a lifetime’s work and every penny they have can be wiped out by a single hail storm, a drought or a market crash that erases any chance of profit regardless of how well crops do. That is why the vast majority of Kansas farmers purchase crop insurance every year and why it must remain available, affordable and viable.

With the cost of farming so high, most farmers must show proof of crop insurance to secure production loans from banks. This allows banks to make production loans to folks who might otherwise be judged too risky.

One of those groups is young farmers. They are the key to the future of American agriculture. For them, if they haven’t purchased crop insurance, one bad year and they are done.

Some think crop insurance is a freebie. It’s not. Farmers have skin in the game when they pay their premiums, which is not pocket change.

In fact, the farmers I know spend $35,000 to $40,000 every year to purchase their policies. And in many years, they don’t collect a dime.

Crop insurance helps ensure a legacy of abundance in America.

Steve Baccus

Immediate past president, Kansas Farm Bureau

Minneapolis, Kan.

This letter to the editor appeared in the Kansas City Star on December 20, 2014.

Previous Droughts Taught Illinois Farmers How To Manage Risk

Some have said that there is no better place on earth to farm corn than in America’s Corn Belt.  Our soil and climatic conditions for growing corn and soybeans are among the best on earth, and our farmers are hardworking, committed and driven to produce record crops every year.   And in some years, they do.

But drought does occasionally visit the Land of Lincoln, such as the drought of 1983 and the drought of 1988.   And in those years, many hardworking farmers watched their crops wither and their dreams blow away with the dust, because they didn’t have a backup plan in place in case something like this happened.

Today, most farmers purchase crop insurance, which ensures that when drought or flood or early freeze visits our region, farmers have some level of protection to recoup the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve spent trying to raise a crop.

The droughts in the 1980s taught the area farmers that if they relied on disaster payments and subsidized federal loans to bounce back from natural disasters, they were going to eventually fall on their faces.   On the other hand, crop insurance, which today protects almost 90 percent of planted cropland in the U.S, combines the resources of the Federal government with the ingenuity and entrepreneurship of the private sector.

Crop insurance allows individual farmers to purchase the coverage they need, tailored to their farms, their financial standing and their tolerance to risk.   Unlike government programs of the past, crop insurance is a public-private partnership, whereby farmers purchase policies from participating crop insurance companies that are approved by the government, which discounts a portion of those policies to ensure their affordability to all farmers.  In 2012, farmers spent $4.5 billion out of their own back pockets purchasing crop insurance.

Crop insurance has become indispensible because farming is so expensive that banks are afraid to make production loans without a crop insurance policy as collateral.   That way, if the crop fails, the bank, and the farmer, have something to fall back on.

I’ll never forget the drought of 2012.   Farmers calmly walked their fields, yet inside, we all knew we were heading for big trouble.  Well before the harvest, the corn was burning up and the plants themselves were stunted.   In some parts of the state, corn crops were condemned but the plants were so small they could hardly be chopped for silage.

But unlike previous droughts I had witnessed, there was a sense of optimism in the farmers I knew.  They were more upbeat and positive because they had adequate protection and they could bounce back.  And guess what?  Everyone bounced back in 2013 and produced an enormous harvest for the nation.

In 2014, Illinois farmers spent $302 million to purchase 124,000 crop insurance policies protecting 19 million acres valued at nearly $11 billion.

We live in one of the richest nations in the world and virtually anything you want to eat is right at your fingertips.  But that doesn’t occur by accident.  It’s possible due to good farm policies and hardworking farmers, who together produce the cheapest and most reliable food in the world.

Nowhere else has been able to compare to the efficiency we’ve achieved in this country.   And I’ll be forever proud of that fact.

Bill Christ farms about 1,400 acres and lives in Metamora, Illinois.  This op-ed appeared in the Peoria Journal Star on November 8, 2014.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Klodette and Rick Stroh, Powell, Wyoming

Klodette Stroh isn’t your typical Wyoming farm girl.

Klodette is an Assyrian, born in Teheran, Iran, who came to the U.S. to attend college with the goal of becoming a physician and instead wound up falling in love with Wyoming farmer, Rick Stroh.

The couple began farming together in 1989, first purchasing some equipment and leasing land, all while hoping to one day own a farm of their own.    After years of hard work, the couple finally achieved a hard-fought dream and purchased their own farmland.  Today, the couple, and their two sons Rick and Paul, farm nearly 1,800 acres of malt barley, wheat, varieties of dry edible beans, corn and hay, near Powell, Wyoming.   They also tend to more than 50 head of cattle.

While things on their farm and in their lives have changed, one thing has always stayed the same:  The Strohs have always purchased crop insurance.   “We buy crop insurance mainly to safeguard from bad weather,” said Klodette Stroh.   “Last year we had four major hail storms in a row,” said Stroh.

Read Klodette and Rich Stroh’s story here.

“Eating Local” Made Possible With Strong Crop Insurance Policies

One side benefit of the popular “eating local” movement is a growing recognition by urbanites and suburbanites of the importance of agriculture and the need to ensure that farmers are able to withstand the many challenges presented by Mother Nature. While farmers manage their many risks using a wide variety of tactics, there is one tool in most farmers’ risk management portfolio, which they consider indispensable: crop insurance.

The value of crop insurance to New England’s farmers was made crystal clear in 2012 by Tropical Storm Irene, which brought heavy winds and even heavier rains just as crops were nearing harvest. While 2011 saw record losses across the U.S. with freezes in Florida, drought in the Southwest and floods in the Midwest, it was farmers in Vermont who sustained the highest loss ratios in the country. As a crop insurance agent, I can attest that many of our farmers saw their entire crops devoured in one day as floodwaters, sometimes six feet high, swallowed their fields.

After the waters finally receded and the extent of the damage to their farms was assessed, it quickly became clear that Irene’s wallop had the potential of being a “game changer” for many New England farmers. And crop insurance was the only thing that saved many of them from losing their farms to bankruptcy and instead allowed them to return to their fields this spring and plant.

View the entire story here.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Andy Bell, Climax, Georgia

On the first Saturday after Thanksgiving, you can chase a greased pig in the southwestern Georgia town of Climax as it celebrates its Swine Time Festival, which normally draws up to 30,000 people in an area where only 300 people live.

There is also corn shucking and a squeal-off.  Climax is the highest point on the railroad line between Savannah and the Chattahoochee River.  After its founding in the 1880s, the town served as a rail junction and an agricultural community. It was incorporated in 1905.

The weather for a farmer in Climax can be tricky. The town is located only a few dozen miles from the Gulf of Mexico which can bring in hurricanes as powerful as Katrina, which struck New Orleans with devastating fury in 2005.  But this corner of southern Georgia has also been hit by a drought that rivals the one which hit this year in the U.S. Midwest, shriveling the cotton and peanuts that farmers grow in the area.

“We’re 90 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. We had a tropical storm come through in [20]09.  We’re so close to the coast that we have to have some type of insurance,” said Andy Bell, who farms about 2,000 acres outside town.  On the other hand, “2007 was a terrible, dry year.”

“We buy crop insurance every year,” said Bell. “We typically buy 70 percent [of coverage]. You’re not going to make any money but it will prevent you from losing the farm.”

His main crops are peanuts, cotton and corn. Some 700 acres are sown to peanuts, about 1,100 acres to cotton and about 200 acres to corn.  There is also a small herd of about 200 beef cattle.

Bell said there were some anxious moments before Hurricane Isaac veered away from their area a few months ago and headed for New Orleans. The storm season, which does not end until November 30, remains a threat, but the end to hurricane season is not far off.

For once, Bell is looking forward to harvest season as it looks like the weather is going to cooperate.  “I think the peanut crop is going to be good this year. We dodged a bullet when the storm went the other way,” said Bell, who began farming in 1982.

The average yield for peanut farms would run around 1 to 3 tons per acre. But just as Bell suspected, this year yields will be at record highs. USDA forecasts it at a record 3,714 pounds per acre, which would be 400 + pounds higher than last year.

Bell’s cotton crop is also in pretty good shape, with the Georgia farmer saying they may approach the yields of a few years ago when the harvest stood at 1,300 to 1,400 lbs an acre. That is pretty good considering the national average is about 800 pounds an acre.

His main problem though is the price of cotton. Since scaling a record high at $2.27 a pound in March 2011, cotton prices have shriveled and are now trading around $.75  a pound.  “We have (had) a price collapse,” he said.

In good years and bad, Bell said crop insurance is indispensable simply because the weather in his area is so unpredictable. “It can rain here and then five miles down the road, you get no rain,” he said. Bell noted that crop insurance is ”not a fix-all”, but it gives farmers a chance to come back after a bad year.

For him, removing crop insurance is unthinkable. Banks and other lending institutions would not extend any credit to farmers if there is no safety net like crop insurance to give them some assurance that they will get part of their money back.

“I think it would be catastrophic,” Bell declared. “He [the American farmer] would be out of business. We’ve got to have some form of insurance.”

This Drought Is Awful, But with the Right Tools, Farmers Will Bounce Back

In many parts of Oklahoma, it seems like wheat farmers just can’t catch a break.

A late spring freeze, combined with excessively dry or extreme drought conditions throughout the winter and into spring have left many of the state’s wheat fields badly stressed or a complete bust.  I’d say this is the worst I’ve ever seen, and I started farming in the mid 1950s.

With the wheat harvest set to begin in about a month, farmers are expected to harvest about 40 percent less wheat this year than they did in 2013.   The low soil moisture has left many farmers wondering what they are about to go through.

For the state’s farmers who purchased crop insurance – and nowadays that’s nearly all of them – that will be their only saving grace.   I don’t know of a farmer anywhere in Oklahoma who doesn’t buy crop insurance.  It’s just like buying diesel fuel today…you don’t farm without it.

With the passage of the new Farm Bill, largely gone are the days of the Federal government stepping after a calamity.  Today, when a farm crisis hits, farmers turn to their crop insurance policy, not the Federal government, for help.  The public-private partnership that is today’s crop insurance ensures that farmers get the financial help they need in weeks, not years.

As a crop insurance agent, I can tell you firsthand that crop insurance is no small expense for most of the state’s farmers, who spend north of $20,000 a year purchasing policies that they pray they will not need.

Farmers buy crop insurance today just like they buy homeowners insurance.  And when a good year turns into a bust, the only thing standing between some farmers and bankruptcy is their crop insurance policies.

Last year, Oklahoma farmers spent more than $93 million to purchase the peace of mind of crop insurance.  Crop insurance allows individual farmers to purchase the coverage they need, tailored to their farms, financial standing and tolerance to risk.

For farmers who rely on loans to operate – and that’s a lot of farmers – crop insurance has become a bank’s best friend.  In fact, the best collateral you can take to a bank when you are seeking a loan is your crop insurance policy.

Crop insurance is not only smart farm policy, but smart consumer policy as well.  American consumers have come to see our affordable, abundant food supply as a birthright.  In fact, most of us alive today have never seen wide-scale hunger in this country.  But much of what we take for granted could quickly disappear if we allow our farmers to fail and were forced to import our food, fiber and fuel.

While this might be the worst drought I’ve ever seen, I have to say that my faith in the resilience and work ethic of Oklahoma’s farmers is undying, and I know that with their crop insurance policies as a backstop, our farmers will bounce back from this.

Max Claybaker is a farmer and a crop insurance insurance agent from Blackwell, Oklahoma.  This op-ed appeared in The Oklahoman on June 1, 2014.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Andrew Bowman, Oneida, Illinois

Andrew Bowman is a fifth-generation farmer from Oneida, Illinois, in the western part of the state. Bowman, who is in the family business with his father, farms 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans, although they are also looking into new crops. “But corn and soybeans are definitely our bread and butter,” says Bowman.

The drought of 2012 was especially hard on the state of Illinois, with farmers there seeing some of the highest losses in the country. But there were a few counties in the western part of the state that escaped the worst of it. “In 2012, when everyone in Illinois was suffering under an incredible drought, we were in a garden spot,” said Bowman, who noted that while their yields were slightly down, the high commodity prices made up for it.

Bowman says that the worst year his farm has experienced in recent history was in 2005, which saw a very regionalized, yet extreme drought in western Illinois, with the rest of the Corn Belt being relatively unaffected. It was the first year since the drought of 1988 when farmers saw Spider Mites in their soybeans. Bowman notes that the low yields combined with the low prices that year was a double whammy for farmers in the drought area.

Read Andrew’s entire story here.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Tom March, Bethlehem, Connecticut

In 1915, Thomas and Rose Marchukaitis, two Lithuanian immigrants who had been in the country for only a few years, purchased a farm in Bethlehem, Connecticut, which consisted of 114 acres and supported 15 cows and two horses. There, they raised their nine children and worked hard for their American dream.

Three generations later, their grandson, Tom March, is still farming that parcel of land, which has grown to 150 acres, along with his brother-in-law and their two sons. “We’re a diversified farm, because you have to be,” said March, whose farm consists of about 75 acres of sweet corn, 30 acres of apples, 4 acres of peaches, along with some strawberries and blueberries.

March took over the farm from his father in 1976 and has been at it ever since. Most farmers are quick to recount their “really bad year,” but Mother Nature has been unusually cruel to the March Farms with a long string of natural disasters.

Read Tom March’s entire story here.

Crop Insurance Helps NC Farmers Weather the Ups and Downs

From rags to riches. From feast to famine. From pauper to prince. We’ve all heard the phrases to describe going from one extreme condition to the opposite. But farmers in North Carolina understand this concept first hand. Unfortunately.

In 2011, just about every imaginable weather disaster hit the state. It started with frigid cold, moved on to a sweltering heat wave, interspersed with a historic tornado outbreak and then hurricane flooding.

In 2012, started out with much of the state experiencing a severe drought, but thankfully Mother Nature eventually dealt a kinder hand to farmers in the Tar Heel state than most of the rest of the county, who experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl.

This unending rollercoaster of weather extremes underscores the reason why year after year, farmers across the country happily purchase crop insurance to help mitigate the unknowns that are never far from hand. In the past, disasters like these would have triggered large disaster relief bills, much like what was passed after Hurricane Sandy.

Those bills were costly – 42 such bills have cost taxpayers roughly $70 billion since 1989 – and slow in delivery, and dealt with disasters after they happened. Crop insurance policies, by comparison, force farmers to think about their risk management plans before planting. Policies are purchased at the beginning season, and if disaster strikes, it takes a month or less, not a year, for assistance to arrive.

The passage of the Farm Bill in both the House and Senate will mark a new chapter in U.S. farm policy. The days of direct payments to farmers will be gone as well as many of the large commodity support programs. Left in their place is crop insurance, a public-private partnership whereby farmers purchase individual policies that are tailored to their specific needs, and are sold, serviced and delivered by participating companies. As Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow pointed out, when a farmer signs up for crop insurance, “the farmer gets a bill, not a check.”

The key to the success of crop insurance is its affordability, thanks to a premium discount from the federal government, combined with its ubiquity, meaning that any farmer who wishes to purchase a policy must be sold one at a price set by the federal government, regardless of that farmer’s risk profile. And unlike the past, taxpayers aren’t stuck footing the bill alone.

Farmers wishing to be protected by crop insurance must purchase it with money out of their own pockets. Since 2000, farmers have spent $38 billion doing just that, protecting crops ranging from corn and soybeans to apples, pears, blueberries and tomatoes.

The reason why crop insurance is so successful is that it is widely purchased, with roughly 90 percent of all planted cropland protected in 2013. And since so many farmers had bountiful harvests in 2013, more than half a million of the farmers who purchased crop insurance never collected an indemnity.

But some crop insurance critics are calling for a major policy change, called means testing. Means testing is a bad idea because it would force many large or highly successful farmers to pay more for their federal crop insurance coverage, which could reduce the amount of insurance they purchase, leaving many acres with inadequate coverage. Fewer acres covered mean more expensive premiums for everyone else, including small and mid-size farmers.

Why? Because if the biggest farmers, who tend to be the least risky, are driven out, the pool of insureds shrinks and thus the risk for those remaining gets larger. For example, if a company selling car insurance excludes the best drivers from their pool of insureds, the only drivers left would be those who are the riskiest, and thus the costliest to insure. This fact would drive up the premiums for all remaining drivers, or in this case, farmers.

Facing extreme conditions is part of farming that will always be with us. But for the sake of the rural economy and the many rural Americans who depend on it, keeping crop insurance robust and widely available is the best thing we can do for both farmers and consumers alike.

William “Midge” Tankard farms corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum and tobacco and lives in Bath, NC. This op-ed appeared in the Fayetteville Observer on December 4, 2013.

Farmer Testimonials: “Peace of Mind” from Purchasing Crop Insurance

Beginning farmer Cody Bornholdt returned to the family farm in 2011 in Inman, Kansas, after finishing college to find himself in the middle of what would be a multi-year drought in the southern plains. Bornholdt said that given the amount of risk that farmers face to put a crop in the ground, crop insurance is an invaluable risk management tool. “As a beginning farmer, it is essential for me to cover my investment as I take on a big risk with a lot of capital investment into these crops,” he said.

Bornholdt noted that his decision to purchase crop insurance yearly gives him peace of mind, even in the worst of times. “It’s nice to know and it makes it easy to sleep at night when you are in a year like this year when it’s a catastrophe or a drought,” he said. “Not knowing if you’re going to have a crop in the fall … knowing that you have your crops covered and you’ll be able to make ends meet at the end of the year and get that note paid off is a huge relief,” he said.

Lindsborg, Kansas, farmer Tom Toll explained that given increased expenses, the constant volatility of the market, the uncertainty in the world and the chance that his entire investment in crops and livestock could disappear overnight, purchasing crop insurance was the only thing that let him sleep at night.

Toll noted that those who choose to not purchase crop insurance are taking an enormous risk that could cost them everything. “One hail storm, an early frost, one of those things, could put your farm in jeopardy this year,” he said.

Pala, California, citrus producer Raymond Lodge said that farmers purchase crop insurance for the same reason car owners and home owners purchase insurance: the cost of complete loss is too high. “One cannot eliminate totally the risk of life but having crop insurance has been a godsend for us,” he said.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Tim Totheroh, Wellington, Illinois

Although Tim Totheroh says that his last name is “Pennsylvania Dutch,” he’s 100 percent Illinois farm boy, having spent his entire life on a farm near Wellington, Illinois.

Totheroh, who farms 850 acres of corn and soybeans, is also a crop insurance adjuster, which gave him unique insight into the historic drought of 2012. Totheroh says that in all of his years of farming, he’s never seen anything quite like last summer. “I entered a corn field and walked half a mile, turned and walked a half a mile in the other direction,” he said. “And I didn’t see a single ear of corn. Not one single ear.”

Totheroh said that sometimes he’d walk through a field and happen upon a small portion of corn that fared a little better. “Every here and there, you’d find a part of the field that got lucky and had a shower or two more than the rest, and you’d have 180 bushels in that one little spot. But then the rest of the field was just awful,” he said.

Totheroh said that thankfully, not all farmers suffered such extreme losses. “Some of the new hybrid varieties helped farmers a bit because the plants were more efficient at using what little moisture fell,” he said. But for most farmers, who are accustomed to getting about 180 bushels of corn per acre, the losses were substantial. “Last year, I walked a lot of fields that had 80 to 100 bushels per acre,” he said. “We just had half a corn crop around here, basically.”

Totheroh noted that losses of that magnitude are hard to handle, particularly for the younger and new farmers, who are just getting started and are thus more vulnerable. “There aren’t a lot of new farmers, unfortunately, but the ones who were coming into the business last year were shocked by how bad it was,” he said. “Even if they had spent their whole lives growing up on a farm, they had never experienced anything like that,” he said.

“Thankfully, most of those young farmers had purchased crop insurance, which allowed them to put their worries on the back burner a little and focus on what they could do to make the most of the hand they had been dealt,” he said. Totheroh noted that while crop insurance premiums are not cheap, it is often money well spent. “Most farmers around here purchase crop insurance, and most rarely collect on their policies,” he added.

Totheroh explained that while Illinois generally has consistently good corn crops, there is an area not far from his farm that has had three really bad years in a row. “Without crop insurance, those guys would be out of business,” he said. And that is due to no fault of their own, just three bad years where Mother Nature had thrown them a curve ball,” he said.

Totheroh noted that this year, despite a cold wet start, the corn crop looks much better and farmers are feeling far more optimistic, with some forecasts predicting the largest corn crop in U.S. history. “The young farmers are very upbeat too,” he noted. “They weathered a bad year, saw how well their insurance worked, and they know that if they purchase crop insurance, they have a backstop if the floor drops out from under them,” he said. “They’re not going to necessarily lose everything just because of a bad year.”

Crop Insurance Is Critical for this Nation’s Fresh Produce Industry

Sometimes, timing is everything. And for fresh fruits and vegetables, there has been a recent convergence of trends and preferences that bode well for the industry.

The first is the federal government’s decision to ensure that more fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed as part of the school meal programs, which will expose children who would otherwise have limited access to these important foods. The other trend is the locavore – or eating local – movement, that underscores the importance of buying local and eating fresh produce.

But to ensure that fresh fruits and vegetables are available for a population that is increasingly asking for them, we need to have wise public policies in place that help the farmers who grow these important foods to manage the many risks they face brought on by Mother Nature.

And for specialty crop growers – farmers who grow this nation’s fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and berries – the quintessential risk management tool is crop insurance.

Many of the public policies that underpin food production – typically known as farm programs – chiefly support the major food and feed commodities like corn, wheat and soybeans. Those crops and the programs that support them are critical and have been a major factor behind why the United States is a global player in food production.

But for those raising specialty crops, crop insurance is the only public policy tool available to deal with extreme weather patterns. Crop insurance is a public-private partnership whereby farmers purchase their own policies to cover the risks they choose to pay for. And farmers are quite happy to purchase it, having spent $4.1 billion out of their own pockets in 2012.

There has been a lot of media attention about the historic drought of 2012, and deservedly so. But that drought was preceded by a very devastating late spring freeze here in New England that nearly wiped out a year’s worth of income for many of the growers who raise this nation’s fresh apples.

Without the protection of crop insurance, these growers might have been completely knocked out of business from such a devastating freeze. And the ones who hadn’t purchased crop insurance might have been. But the majority of the region’s farmers who purchase crop insurance every year, were able to bounce back from the freeze, continue to care for their orchards and prepare for the 2013 crop.

But having just one bad year would have actually been good news for me. Six out the last seven years, I’ve had hail damage on my apple crop. Last year, I lost 90 percent of my apple crop on that late frost and then the other ten percent was demolished by hail. For my peaches, another big crop on my farm, I’ve also had major losses 6 out of the last 7 years. Needless to say, if I hadn’t purchased crop insurance, I would have had many lean years in a row.

Since crop insurance is sold, managed and delivered by the private sector, when disaster strikes, indemnity checks usually arrive less than a month after the paperwork is completed. In the past, when farmers would rely on disaster assistance from the federal government, it took months, or more than a year in some cases, for those funds to finally reach the hands of the growers who had lost everything. And for a grower whose entire apple crop has just been frozen, a year can be about 11 months too long.

Crop insurance is available for 128 different crops, and that list is expanding. In some ways, the abundance of America’s farm sector seems like a miracle, but it’s not. If it weren’t for hard work, investment, infrastructure and crop insurance to manage some of the major risks, there might be a lot fewer consumers enjoying America’s fresh fruits and vegetables.

Tom March grows fruits and vegetables on his farm, which has been in the family since 1915, in Bethlehem, Connecticut.

This op-ed appeared in the Hartford Courant on July 29, 2013.

Farmers Belong on a Tractor, Not Under the Bus

By Mark Gerdes

One of the beauties of life in our great democracy is that spirited debate about important public policies is not only expected, it’s encouraged. One of the intrinsic rules of these discussions, if they are to be productive and fair, is that the policy itself should be scrutinized from every angle without demonizing or castigating the various groups affected by these policies.

In other words, we should be able to discuss education policy without demonizing teachers or impugning the integrity of students. Likewise, we should be able to debate defense policy without bashing soldiers or peace activists. Unfortunately, when it comes to discussions about farm policy — in particular the decision by many farmers to purchase crop insurance — critics have chosen to throw farmers under the bus time and time again instead of debating the policies on their merits.

Last year, we had one of the worst droughts our nation has seen in decades. And while America’s farm families watched their crops shrivel in the fields, some critics said “farmers are praying for drought, not praying for rain.” Another critic said that farmers who purchased crop insurance last summer “were laughing all the way to the bank.” In short, they argued farmers make more money from collecting a crop insurance check than harvesting a crop, and in fact they would prefer to watch their crops wither or livestock die and collect a crop insurance check than to take the fruits of their labors to market.

As a farmer, I must point out that statements about the integrity and motivation of farmers and their decision to purchase crop insurance demonstrates both incredibly poor math skills as well as a complete lack of understanding about the core values and beliefs of America’s farmers.

Take, for example, the charge that farmers hope their crops will fail so that they can collect a crop insurance check. Critics are quick to point out that more than $17 billion will be paid out to farmers and ranchers who purchased crop insurance for their losses in 2012. The implication here is that the $17 billion is some sort of windfall being bestowed upon farmers by the federal government.

But the math tells a very different story. Insurance policies must first be purchased, and then policy holders must absorb the policy’s deductible after suffering a verifiable loss, before they can collect a single dime. In 2012, farmers paid $4.1 billion out of their own pockets to purchase crop insurance policies. Then, farmers shouldered $12.7 billion…

Mark Gerdes, a fourth-generation farmer, raises corn, soybeans and cattle on 2,800 acres in Aredale, Iowa. This op-ed appeared in the Ames Tribune on June 7, 2013.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Tom & Mike Audet, Orwell, Vermont

Ledge Haven Farm might be one of those Vermont farms that would be most likely to end up on a postcard. The place is just about everything you would think of when you put the words Vermont and agriculture together. The 550-acre farm, owned by brothers Tom and Mike Audet, is a family-run dairy and maple sugaring operation located near the idyllic shores of Lake Champlain, just down the road from historic Mount Independence in Orwell, Vermont.

The Audet brothers have been in business together since 1972, having been raised on a farm just down the road that is still operated by yet another Audet brother. “We have been making pure Vermont Maple Syrup for over 40 years right here on our farm,” says Tom Audet. “It is an Audet family tradition with three generations of our family pitching in to make the final product,” he says.

The brothers manage their risk using one of the gold medal standard rules of modern agriculture: Diversify. The brothers milk 270 dairy cows, attend to another 280 young stock and breeding stock, manage 450 acres of corn, hay and alfalfa, as well as tapping hundreds of maple trees on the 50 wooded acres of the property. “Diversifying is our first line of defense in managing risk, and crop insurance is the second,” said Audet.

Read Tom and Mike Audet’s story here.

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Jimmy Miller, Interlachen, Florida

For centuries, blueberries were gathered from the dense forests and bogs by northeastern U.S. Native Americans, and they are one of the only fruits we consume that are native to North America. So when most of us hear about blueberry farms, we conjure up images of cool, damp climates and cold winters.

Jimmy Miller’s blueberry farm, which is well south of the Mason-Dixon line in Interlachen, Florida, in an exception. Miller has operated the farm, which is the oldest existing blueberry farm in the state, since 1979. Miller, along with his two daughters and son-in-law, operates the 124-acre operation using a variety of blueberries developed by the University of Florida that tolerate the summer heat and mild winters.

Miller explains that one of the main issues for blueberry growers in Florida is that the plants require at least 200 hours every winter where the temperature dips below 45. If that doesn’t happen, fruit production can tumble quickly.

But the primary risk is a freeze or hail. “We never had a real loss until this year,” said Miller. “It was an early spring, and then all of the sudden, we had a front blow through that dropped our temperature to 24 degrees,” he explained.

The next day, the Miller clan was hopeful that the crop would be okay, “but we also knew that it could be catastrophic,” he said. Thankfully for Miller, he always purchases crop insurance, so if the blueberries didn’t look better in a few weeks, he knew he’d be filing his first-ever claim.

Read Jimmy Miller’s story.

Crop Insurance: An Approach That Better Fits This Nation’s Fiscal Reality

The historic drought that wilted the corn and soybean fields of Illinois and other Midwest states was one of the costliest events to hit rural America in decades. As the nightly news reported, losses on farms in large swaths of the Midwest were staggering, with some farmers having such low yields that harvesting was a waste of time.

Patrick editedI feel like I live in an oasis. The drought and heat wave that crippled farmers in neighboring counties and nearby states somehow spared my farm and a few others here in north central Illinois. I don’t know if it’s where the farm is located, the soil it sits on or just the luck of the draw in getting a few rain showers here and there, but somehow, I was spared. This makes me feel lucky, on one hand, since I did not face the dread of losing my crops, but guilty on the other hand because so many other farmers did.

In past years, a disaster on this level would have triggered a massive, ad hoc disaster bill in Congress, which would have given every farmer in Illinois and most other Midwest states – including farmers like me who had a good crop –federal disaster assistance. This approach to farm disasters is not only expensive for taxpayers but wastes money by offering a “one-size-fits-all” remedy.

Forty-two such emergency disaster bills in agriculture have cost taxpayers $70 billion since 1989. That’s a very expensive, cumbersome and untargeted approach to managing natural disasters. Realizing that fact, Congress, in the mid 1990s, decided to encourage farmers to purchase crop insurance by offering them a discount on their premiums if they did so. The idea was that if crop insurance was affordable and widely available, farmers would already have insurance in place when a natural disaster strikes.

And guess what? It worked. The year 2011 saw an unprecedented string of natural disasters, ranging from an early freeze, to floods, droughts, wildfires and hurricanes. The year 2012 saw the worst drought in decades. But despite these calamities, Congress wasn’t pressured for a major farm disaster bill, because more than 86 percent of planted farmland was protected by crop insurance in 2012.

That’s why I buy crop insurance every year to protect my farm, my family and my investment. Crop insurance is a public-private partnership that has become this nation’s new hybrid approach to risk management, and taxpayers don’t pay out all of the losses when disaster strikes. Private insurance companies take a hit, and farmers fund much of the payments through premiums paid out of their own pockets.

And farmers are happy to fork over more than $4 billion annually because they love crop insurance. First, farmers sit down with their crop insurance agents and design and purchase their own plans, tailored specifically to their farms, their crops and their comfort with risk. This gives farmers some peace of mind when the things go awry.

When disaster strikes and there is a verifiable loss, crop insurance indemnities are managed and delivered by private sector companies, usually arriving within 30 days of a claim being finalized. Large disaster bills – like the Hurricane Sandy relief bill – took three months just to pass Congress and will take months more to get help into the hands of the victims.

I started buying crop insurance about 11 years ago, because in farming, the costs of the inputs are so high, that you have to have some kind of backup plan in place. In addition, most of the farmers I know have to borrow operating loans every year from banks, which often require crop insurance as collateral for the loan.

Consumers should like crop insurance, too. The availability of a safe, affordable and healthy food supply requires the presence of some form of disaster protection for farmers, who increasingly face wild weather patterns that challenge the food production system. In the U.S., the ability for farmers to purchase crop insurance is actually this nation’s “insurance policy” against widespread food shortages or sharp price hikes in food products.

I sleep a heck of a lot better at night because I know I have crop insurance coverage. If I have a major loss, I know I have a backup plan. I certainly won’t make any money off of my insurance indemnity, but I also won’t lose the farm. And if I’m lucky enough to not have a loss, I collect nothing other than the proceeds from selling my crop — which is the way the market is supposed to work.

Patrick Solon is a corn and soybean farmer and lives in Streator, Illinois. This op-ed appeared in the Ottawa-Streator Times on March 15, 2013

New NCIS Video: Criticisms Against Farmers Who Purchase Crop Insurance Naïve, Untrue

Critics who said that farmers who purchased crop insurance were “praying for drought, not praying for rain” or were “laughing all the way to the bank” during last summer’s historic drought were strongly rebuked by farmers, crop insurance agents and claims adjusters in a new video released by National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS).

Marvin Andris, a farmer from Milford, Illinois, responded to Environmental Working Group’s accusations, noting that their comments underscored how little they know about farmers. “They obviously haven’t brushed shoulders with any farmer,” he said. Andris said he didn’t know a single farmer who farmed for an insurance check. “We’re into this because we want to raise crops, and the more bountiful, the more excited we become,” he said.

“I certainly don’t see anybody, as far as I know, that is seriously farming looking for a drought, and looking for a crop insurance check,” said Ben Hanawa, a field claims adjuster from San Benito, Texas. He explained that crop insurance can help you make it through a bad year, “but it certainly is no way to make a living.”

David Finch, a claims adjuster from Tulia, Texas, noted that charges that farmers are happy to incur losses demonstrated both a misunderstanding of the nature of farmers and how crop insurance works. “I’ve never heard of anybody or talked or visited with any farmer who would rather have an insurance check than he would have a good crop that he could bank on his own,” he said. “It’s a matter of pride.”

Robert Geddes, a farmer from Hoopeston, Illinois, explained that crop insurance is not any different than other forms of insurance that consumers buy on a daily basis, like homeowner’s insurance or car insurance. “You don’t buy insurance on your car with idea of going out and having a wreck,” he said. “It’s to take care of [you], when things truly go against you.”

Todd Harris, an insurance agent from Rossville, Illinois, explained that most of the farmers in that part of the state have never had a claim of this nature. “All you got to do is be a mathematician, really, to figure out if you’d be better with a claim, or a crop,” he said. Harris noted “if you ask that question of a farmer, they’ll laugh at you.” That’s because farmers make far more from a good crop than an insurance claim, he explained.

These were not the only misrepresentations farm policy critics made during last year’s historic drought. Claims were made that indemnity payments for the drought would range from $30 billion to $40 billion. The Congressional Budget Office noted earlier this month that 2012 indemnity payments will be closer to $16 billion.

Those same critics also led people to believe that taxpayers would be responsible for nearly all crop insurance payments to farmers, which is another fallacy. Final program costs will reflect the $4.1 billion in premiums farmers paid to purchase insurance policies, losses by private crop insurance companies, as well as government investment.


CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Trent Patterson, Lake County, Tennessee

For Trent Patterson, 2012 was a very dry year.

Drought parched much of Tennessee, where he farms about 4,500 acres planted to cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. The drought forced farmers like Patterson to switch crops from the flagship cotton to soybeans, which requires less agricultural inputs. With crop insurance as part of most farmers’ backup plans, many of them were able to get by.

“The drought of 2012 caused hardship from planting to harvest,” said Patterson of Lake County in northwest Tennessee. “We planted, replanted, spot planted and in some fields abandoned the cotton crop and planted beans only to plant and replant those and get half a stand.”

Corn yields took the biggest hit during the year-long drought. “We were unable to fill our contracts,” he said.

Tennessee is a major producer of cattle and is a key grower of crops like cotton and soybeans. The farm sector alone is responsible for nearly $3 billion in farm gate receipts, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. About half of the state’s land area, or some 11 million acres, is comprised of farms. The western portion where Patterson farms is prime land fed by the flood plains of the Mississippi River. This area is largely devoted to soybeans, wheat, corn, cotton and sorghum.

Crop insurance has been a much-needed lifeline for Patterson and other farmers like him. Crop insurance has allowed them to survive drought, floods and other disasters that form part of the natural landscape farmers must contend with on a yearly basis in much of the U.S.

For farmers in Texas, 2011 was the worst drought in a century. For farmers in Louisiana, the program was critical in 2005 when they endured the double-barreled disaster brought on by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For farmers in Tennessee and in much of the Midwest, the drought of 2012 was the worst in 25 years. And while crop insurance only covers a percentage of the loss in most cases, the money provides the much-needed infusion to help farmers survive until the next season.

Said Patterson, “Without crop insurance as a risk management tool, a disaster as we have had in 2012 is not survivable to many farming operations.”

Each year is a “make or break situation” for most farms, he explained. For his part, he has filed the paperwork to receive insurance claims for cotton crops that had to be switched to beans. The insurance adjuster has visited his farmlands and reviewed his paperwork, which includes a history of his yield production.

Patterson says that crop insurance is a key component of the farm safety net and a major feature in ongoing Farm Bill discussions. If the country’s goal is to keep U.S. food and fiber industries viable, then the farm bill must include crop insurance to help American farmers manage their risks. These comments reflect the sentiment of many farmers and lawmakers from across the country who have strenuously argued that a viable crop insurance program is essential for the future of U.S. farming.

Patterson says that crop insurance is either a subsidy or an investment, but either way, it’s especially critical to a chancy, “risky business” like farming. He underscored the “wisdom” of protecting the American farmer and the industry.

“I don’t want to have to go hungry and naked because I didn’t help my neighbor with his garden if I was eating out of it,” he said. “(So) is it a subsidy or an investment?”


CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Whitney Blodgett, Shoreham, Vermont

Whitney Blodgett has been farming in the family’s Vermont apple orchard, commercially known as “Sentinel Pine Orchard,” his whole life. Blodgett says that the family purchased the orchard in 1964, and have since grown, adding the abandoned dairy farm next door.

Sentinel Pine Orchard, is comprised of 220 acres of apple trees, mostly planted in the Macintosh variety. When harvest time comes, Blodgett along with his wife and farm hands, store, pack and ship fresh fruit to market. “That is our niche market because we can grow those apples very well in this climate,” he says.

Blodgett explains that because of the nature of the business – there aren’t a lot of ways to protect an orchard from the whims of Mother Nature – his chief risk management tool is crop insurance. “We had crop insurance claims in 2004, 2007 and 2011,” he explains. “And all of them were because of hail.”

Hail has always been dreaded in the orchard industry because it hits later in the summer, with the coming of the severe summer thunderstorms, and can damage the apples to the point that they’re no longer marketable as fresh fruit. But 2011 was a very different story.

The hail hit in the early spring, just as the blossoms had fallen from the fruit and the small apples were beginning to form. “There’s nothing we can do against hail because we can’t build a roof over the whole orchard,” he said.

“It was very odd in 2011, the hail hit early in the development of the apples and deformed them,” said Blodgett. “We had to wait and see how they developed and then decided if they would be able to be sold as fresh fruit,” he explains. The other option, if the fruit formed but wasn’t marketable as fresh, was to sell the apples for cider.

Blodgett says they held their breath and said their prayers for months as the apples slowly developed, keeping their fingers crossed that the hailstorm didn’t alter the apples beyond the point of marketability. But in the end, with the apples looking dented and battered, they were forced into the cider market.

“So we reluctantly decided to put the apples into cider,” he explained, which in financial terms, is a six-fold reduction in the value of the year’s harvest.

Luckily for Blodgett, he had purchased a “fresh apple” crop insurance policy that had a 50 percent coverage level. Blodgett explains that immediately after the hail incident, he had contacted his crop insurance agent who sent an adjuster out to the orchard within days. “The adjuster did a preliminary determination, but there would not be a final determination until final harvest,” he explained. “It’s a nail biter right to the very end, since you don’t know how bad things are going to be right away.”

But this wasn’t the first time he had looked to his crop insurance policy for a lifeline.

Blodgett explained that he took over the business from his father shortly after they had a large fire in their storage facility, which was full of apples. “The facility burned down, and that was the start of some very lean years,” he said. And although his father had always shied away from crop insurance, Blodgett decided that he needed the risk protection it afforded.

“I purchased a crop insurance policy in 2004, when things were pretty lean and we couldn’t withstand a lot of loss,” he said. “We were stretched very thin at that time.”

Coincidentally, that also happened to be the first year they experienced a large hailstorm, which stole their harvest and would have left them in very desperate times. “Without a doubt, when that first hail storm hit in 2004, we would have been knocked out of business for good,” he said.

“My father had never purchased crop insurance but thankfully I had decided to,” he said.

“Without crop insurance, I wouldn’t own an apple orchard right now,” he says. Blodgett explains that while crop insurance has kept his family in business, it has also had a positive “trickle down” effect on many of the areas businesses, where he buys his crop protectants, fertilizers and equipment. “If we went out of business, it would impact a lot of people,” he said.

Blodgett notes that crop insurance is essential for his business because even if you get a damaging storm at the beginning of a season – and your lose your entire crop – you still have to spend the money to take care of the trees and manage the orchard in preparation of next spring’s crop. “Even when we lose the crop early in the year, as we have done in the past, we still have to maintain the orchard for the rest of the year,” he said. “Otherwise, your orchard will be a mess the following year.”

And despite the disappointment of sending his whole 2011 crop into the cider market, Blodgett is still farming this year, hoping that what started off as an “iffy” year with a late freeze will still produce a respectable, and marketable, crop.

“Things are looking up, although we have some damage and loss, “ he says. “But this year, we will have a fresh crop of apples to sell.”

“It could be better, it could be worse.”

CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Cash Ruane, North Clarendon, Vermont

It’s perhaps no great coincidence that Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream was founded in Burlington, Vermont, given that dairy is the Green Mountain State’s largest agriculture industry. Cash Ruane, from North Clarendon, Vermont, is one of those Vermont dairy farmers.

Cash has been farming his whole life, starting his own farming business with his beloved wife and business partner Karen in 1992. Together, the Ruanes milk a herd of 75 dairy cows with an additional 90 calves and breeding stock. In addition, and primarily to keep the cattle fed, the Ruanes raise about 160 acres of corn, used mostly for silage, as well as hay, used for feed.

On a good year, the Ruanes can raise enough corn to make all of the silage they will need for the year, plus sell some to neighbors. Ruane says that 2011 was looking like a great year. “My corn crop was doing super, and I already had two cuttings of hay,” he explains, adding that he usually gets four. The promising corn crop and adequate hay supply would mean that the Ruanes would not only have enough feed for their farm for the year, but some to sell to the neighbors as well.

The Ruanes had never experienced any major natural disasters. The main source of adversity and risk on their farm was milk prices, which “fluctuated too much and too often” for most farmers’ taste.

But 2011 was going to prove to be quite the unusual year for the duo, when the arrival of Tropical Storm Irene, turned Otter Creek, which runs right through their farm, into a destructive and wild torrent.

When Hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm, many in New England thought they had dodged a bullet and would get by with some wind and a few showers. But Irene was big a storm that moved very slowly, dumping record amounts of rainfall in a very short period of time on a very rugged part of the country.

Hours after the rain began, Ruane looked out the window of his house to check his cornfields. “All I could see were the tassels of the corn,” he said, as a wall of water rushing down the mountains had swallowed the entire field.

Sometimes flashfloods do not spell doom for corn crops, if they are short in duration and not too deep. But in this case, water came, it came deep and then it refused to leave. “The water did not recede for four and ahalf days,” said Ruane. At one point, the rising water was approaching a barn full of cows, which required immediate rescue. “Luckily, we got the cows out in time,” he said.

When the water finally left, the couple realized that in addition to losing their entire corn crop for the year, they probably would not be able to cut hay for quite some time, due to the silt and debris left in their hayfields. “We lost about 35 to 40 percent of both our third and fourth cutting of hay,” said Ruane. “Which we knew was going to leave us short on feed for the dairy cows for the approaching winter.”

And while there was actually corn left standing despite the rapids that cut through the field, it was soaked to the point that it was ruined. “As time went on, some of the corn just molded and rotted right on the stalk,” he said. Adding, “surprisingly, some of the corn was so waterlogged that it actually sprouted, right on the cob, standing there in the field.” The crop was a complete loss.

Thankfully, Ruane had purchased crop insurance, as he always does, and immediately called his agent when the angry waters left his property. The crop insurance adjuster quickly assessed the damage and the payment soon followed. “I had my indemnity payment within 10 days to two weeks,” he said. “I was impressed, because I was expecting two to three months,” he said.

Unfortunately for the Ruanes, while a crop insurance indemnity can help a farmer get back on his or her feet, it doesn’t replace the income that you would have gained had you sold a bountiful harvest in a good market. “I lost so much feed, I had to borrow money and corn throughout the winter to feed the dairy cows,” he said.

“This was the first time I ever had a claim,” he said. Ruane used his crop insurance indemnity to pay off his 2011 lines of credit, which allowed him to borrow for his next year’s input costsand plant again in 2012. The indemnity, along with help from local charities for farmers and townsfolk who had lost so much in the flooding, helped the Ruanes weather the storm and come back again this year to farm.

“I was really impressed with the generosity of the public, even people I didn’t know and will likely never meet, who extended us a helping hand,” he said. “And my crop insurance indemnity, which allowed us to keep our dairy running for yet another year.”