Heard from the Field: Michigan Farmers Share Insights with Senate

Last week, the Senate Agriculture Committee held its first field hearing in preparation for the 2023 Farm Bill. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John Boozman (R-Ark.) traveled to Sen. Stabenow’s home state of Michigan to hear from local farmers and other key stakeholders about the farm policies that are key to keeping their farms running and their local communities fed. It is no surprise that crop insurance was a common topic in several of these testimonies.

That’s because farmers are facing many risks, especially as climate-driven loss events increase. Juliette King McAvoy, who grows tart cherries and other specialty crops at King Orchards in Northern Michigan, said that crop insurance helps their family farm deal with the threats posed by volatile spring weather.

“Crop insurance absolutely helps us manage risk,” McAvoy said. “We’ve had increased frequency of crop loss and I cannot imagine trying to survive without it. There are not many business models that can withstand the kind of volatility that we are experiencing.”

McAvoy also said that crop insurance gives her the certainty and the confidence to continue her family’s long-term investment in their orchard. “The crop insurance plans do not make us whole (typical plans insure 60% of a crop), but they are so important to ensure that we can keep the orchards maintained and make it to another season,” she wrote in her submitted testimony.

Allyson Maxwell, co-owner of Peter Maxwell Farms, shared similar sentiments about the importance of a strong crop insurance program.

“The safety net provided by crop insurance is vital to maintaining the agriculture industry in this country, especially in the face of increasingly unpredictable disasters like drought, flood, and extreme weather,” Maxwell said. “It’s a really, really important risk tool that we have…and we’re really grateful for it and the fact that it is protected by our Farm Bill.”

She recalled watching her aunt and uncle almost lose their Missouri farm in the 1980s because they did not have crop insurance. Thankfully, their farm survived, and today, they also rely on crop insurance.

Jake Isley, a 6th generation farmer and soybean grower at Stewardship Farms, stressed to the committee that crop insurance must remain affordable in the 2023 Farm Bill.

“Our risk management program on which soybean farmers and our lenders rely on heavily is crop insurance. We must continue to have an affordable crop insurance program. With input costs higher in every area of my operation, I cannot afford to have the crop insurance premium subsidy reduced in this next Farm Bill,” Isley said.

We’re proud that crop insurance has earned the trust and confidence of Michigan farmers, as Sen. Stabenow noted as well.

“One of the things that came up over and over again is crop insurance, which is so critical, particularly in these times with weather getting worse and worse and worse,” Stabenow said. “Our farmers, they’re not asking for a handout. They want help to make sure there’s a backstop that helps them with their risk.”

The testimony from Michigan’s farmers has made it clear that Congress must continue to support a strong crop insurance program in the 2023 Farm Bill.

Risk Management Discussion Shines Spotlight on Crop Insurance

“I can honestly say I would not be sitting here if it was not for crop insurance,” wheat grower Nicole Berg recently told an audience in Washington, DC.

Last year, Berg turned to crop insurance when she was only able to harvest a third of her farm due to drought and arid conditions. Crop insurance provided a vital safety net.

Preserving and strengthening that safety net for all farm producers was a key topic at the annual Ag & Food Policy Summit, hosted by Agri-Pulse. Berg, who is President of the National Association of Wheat Growers, spoke on a panel that focused on managing risks and crop losses on the farm.

“All farmers want to do is stay in business another year,” she said.

The Ag & Food Policy Summit brought together policymakers, farm leaders, and commodity experts for policy discussions that will help shape the 2023 Farm Bill. Crop insurance is expected to remain farmers’ number one risk management tool.

“Our farmers say: crop insurance is a cornerstone of the Farm Bill. Don’t mess with it, just make it better,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Duvall noted that the Farm Bill should reflect the importance of farmers to our national security. That means protecting the farmers who maintain our abundant food supply. Unlike ad hoc disaster programs, which can sometimes take years to deliver assistance, arriving too late to save the family farm after disaster, crop insurance can provide timely assistance to farmers who face unforeseen challenges.

The strengths of crop insurance have made it the ideal risk management tool, said Tom Zacharias, President of National Crop Insurance Services.

  • Its public-private partnership increases efficiency and strengthens program integrity;
  • Its adaptability allows crop insurance to adjust for future risks;
  • Risks and costs are shared between taxpayers, insurers and the government, and;
  • Farmers receive help in just days or weeks, allowing them to count on the predictability of crop insurance to deliver assistance when they need it most.

America’s farmers overwhelmingly trust crop insurance to help them manage their risks. Today, crop insurance provides protection for more than 130 different commodities and covers farmers in all 50 states. Last year, crop insurance insured a record 462 million acres, providing $137 billion dollars in protection. That’s more than 90 percent of major crop insurable farmland in America.

Still, crop insurers and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency are continually working together to improve crop insurance to better protect farmers. In the next Farm Bill, that will mean giving USDA the tools it needs to expand affordable coverage for specialty crop producers.

“Roughly $90 billion a year in specialty crops are planted in the United States, and about $19-20 billion of those specialty crops are covered by crop insurance. The delta is not small, but it has been closing, and that’s a positive,” said Kam Quarles, CEO of the National Potato Council and a member of the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.

Quarles noted that there are more than 300 specialty crops, and each is grown differently, requiring USDA to analyze a significant amount of data. “It has an impact on how those products are priced, how they’re constructed. That’s an ongoing discussion as we look at this Farm Bill: how do we sit down with USDA and the industry, develop better data to make more affordable, useful products,” Quarles said.

As Congress considers next year’s Farm Bill, leaders encouraged farmers to speak out about how crop insurance gives farmers the certainty they need to keep farming.

For America’s Farmers, Crop Insurance is First Line of Defense Against Climate Change

As farmers face increasing challenges due to climate change, the safety net provided by crop insurance is their first line of defense. This was one of the messages delivered last week at a panel discussion on mitigating the risks of climate change during the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) 2022 Agricultural Outlook Forum.

National Crop Insurance Services President Tom Zacharias was among the stakeholders who spoke on the need to provide predictable risk management tools to America’s farmers.

“Their success depends on a healthy environment. One weather disaster can drive a family farm out of business,” Zacharias explained.

America’s farmers overwhelmingly turn to crop insurance to manage their risks. In 2021, crop insurance insured more than 460 million acres, providing $137 billion dollars in protection. Farmers invested more than $5 billion of their own money to protect the crops that supply Americans with food and fiber.

“As rural America confronts climate change, it is critical that crop insurance remain just as dynamic as the farmers it protects. To accomplish this, crop insurance needs to be widely available, affordable, financially viable, and adaptable,” Zacharias said.

Crop insurance not only works to protect farmers when disaster strikes, but it also complements efforts to incentivize the voluntary adoption of climate-smart farming practices.  Congress, USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), and crop insurers have worked together to improve the voluntary adoption of farming practices that increase resiliency, improve conservation, and support a healthy environment.

David Zanoni, Senior Underwriter at RMA, discussed several of the improvements RMA has already made to accommodate new farming practices, including the requirement that farmers adhere to approved conservation plans to protect highly erodible land and wetlands as well as the use of Good Farming Practices, such as cover crops.

Zanoni noted that as agriculture continues to innovate, crop insurance will, too. “It will be a constant evolution of the product line to deal with the challenges of the day,” he said.

Lance Griff, a third-generation farmer from Twin Falls, Idaho, provided a grower perspective, sharing with the audience how he transitioned to utilizing no-till and cover crops in 2013.

“I wanted to leave healthier soil for my kids if they want to farm,” Griff said. “I also wanted our soil to have more resiliency, to endure weather challenges.”

Crop insurance has earned the trust of farmers like Griff, and it is an important part of their risk management plans.

“Crop insurance is a vital tool we employ to help us plan for the upcoming year and mitigate crop production risks that are inherent to farming. These tools help us to be optimistic and resilient in confronting the challenges that face farmers in the 21st century,” Griff said.

Dr. Julia Borman from Verisk Extreme Event Solutions spoke to the highly unpredictable nature of extreme weather and how probabilistic models can help insurers address the challenge of insufficient historical events. “Unlike events such as fire or theft, which are not highly correlated, weather events such as hurricanes are a low frequency and usually high-cost event, there is a strong correlation, and it’s hard to predict the frequency of claims that are going to happen.”

Weather as a driver of crop failure, as well as long-term climate trends, will continue to be a concern for farmers, insurers, and policymakers, Borman said. “One of the major concerns for the insurance industry is balancing that short-term versus long-term perspective,” she said.

Zacharias concluded his remarks by noting that crop insurance must remain affordable, effective, viable, and adaptable to help America’s farmers secure a more sustainable future.

“Looking forward, we know agriculture has an important role to play in the mission to protect our environment and advance climate-smart policies. And we know that a strong and resilient supply of food and fiber is critical for our economy and for our citizens,” he said.

Vilsack: USDA ‘Laser Focused’ on Crop Insurance Access

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is committed to affordable and flexible crop insurance for the nation’s farmers, ranchers, and producers, according to Secretary Tom Vilsack.

He made his pre-recorded remarks on the second day of the crop insurance industry’s annual convention in California.

“Your work is critical to helping America’s farmers, ranchers, and producers manage the risky, but necessary, business of producing our food, fuel, and fiber that so many take for granted,” he said.

Vilsack said he’s seen historic droughts, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and many other disasters in his time as USDA secretary. He said the farmers, ranchers, and producers who had crop insurance told him it gave them the confidence to rebuild and make it to the next growing season.

“They knew that one bad year, one lost crop, wouldn’t mean losing the family farm or ranch that had been in the family for generations because they had that insurance product, that didn’t necessarily make them whole, but did keep them in the game,” he said.

Before, during, and after disasters, agents, and adjusters help deliver for agriculture. America’s farm policy is the envy of the world, he said.

“And the public-private partnership of Federal crop insurance is one of its key components,” he said.

More and more farmers are choosing to invest in crop insurance, in part, because payments are fast but also because the program continues to innovate. He noted the growth in coverage options for different crops and production systems.

He said USDA is working to help producers effectively manage risk through crop insurance with programs including row crop, whole farm revenue protection, rainfall index programs for forage and dairy safety net services to protect against market fluctuations.

USDA is innovating with new insurance options for small producers who sell locally through the micro farm policy that simplifies record keeping and covers post-production costs. It is also working to make cover crops more affordable.

Data from crop insurance is helping to streamline the process and reduce the burden on producers.

“You all have basically helped provide opportunities and hope to our farm families,” he said.

The agency sees its partnership with crop insurance as the path forward to securing the nation’s food supply.

“At USDA, we are laser focused on making sure that every farmer, rancher, and producer of food, fuel and fiber can access the needed crop insurance tools to manage their operating risk,” he said.

Crop Insurance Earns Bipartisan Praise at Congressional Hearing

Crop insurance is the cornerstone of the farm safety net and an invaluable risk management tool for America’s farmers. This message was underscored during a recent House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing called by Subcommittee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.)

“I hear through pretty much every ag meeting I have how important the Federal crop insurance program is to help farmers manage their risk,” Bustos said in her opening remarks.

Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation, testified before the subcommittee about the steps that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking to help America’s farmers and ranchers deal with the increasing risks of farming. Bonnie began his testimony by emphasizing the role that crop insurance plays in helping agriculture defend against climate change.

“With increasing extreme weather, crop insurance remains a vital tool for agriculture,” Bonnie said. “Crop insurance is absolutely critical,” he added later during questioning from members of Congress.

The public-private crop insurance program is an important component of the farm safety net. This is especially true as farmers experience more crop losses due to adverse weather events driven by a changing climate. When disaster strikes, crop insurance gives farmers the stability they need to plant again.

The success of crop insurance earned praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle throughout the hearing.

“I consistently hear from producers that Federal crop insurance works, it works well for them, and that the program does not need major changes,” said Rep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.).

More than 50 farming, banking, and conservation organizations representing groups from across rural America recently echoed this call to protect crop insurance when they sent letters to policymakers asking them to oppose any budget cuts to the program.

Farmers want to ensure that crop insurance remains strong, because they trust in the program to provide a safety net when disaster strikes. In fact, farmers rely on crop insurance to protect more than 90 percent of insurable farmland in the United States. This trust is built on crop insurance’s long record of delivering aid to farmers quickly and efficiently.

Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-S.D.) also pointed to the speed of crop insurance during the hearing.

“I think that the crop insurance system we’ve got has done a really good job from a customer service perspective as well as making sure those indemnities get out in the field as quickly as possible,” Johnson said. “The public-private partnership has delivered a tremendous amount of value.”

It’s no wonder that more and more farmers are protecting their livelihood with crop insurance.

The Three “C’s”: Crop Insurance, Climate, and Conservation

Over the past several years, farmers have dealt with immense climate and weather-related challenges. America’s farmers have survived droughts, hurricanes, derechos, floods, fires and a global pandemic. Through it all, farmers have kept farming. One constant throughout these past several years has been the availability of Federal crop insurance.

Recently, the Crop Insurance Coalition, a group representing farmers, lenders, agricultural input providers and conservation groups, sent letters to the Biden Administration and other congressional leaders asking them not to propose cuts to crop insurance in the upcoming FY2023 budget.

“Crop insurance [is] a farmer’s first line of defense against climate change and other disasters. As the challenges for America’s farmers and ranchers continue to grow, we believe crop insurance as a safety net is only becoming more important to stability in rural America…It is no accident that the most recent farm bills emphasized risk management, and in doing so, protected the interests of American taxpayers.”

Those familiar with the development of Federal crop insurance will recall that 1995 was the first year of implementation of the Crop Insurance Reform Act of 1994. The 1994 Act was in response to the extreme flooding and excessive moisture conditions occurring in the Midwest. Since the inception of the Act, acres insured have essentially doubled while coverage has increased more than five times.

Crop insurance is available nation-wide, and protection is provided for all eligible farmers. Accordingly, crop insurance has provided support to farmers that experienced losses due to a variety of adverse events across the country. Prominent examples since the 1993 flooding include:

  1. 2011 extreme drought in the Southern Plains coupled with flooding along the Missouri River
  2. 2012 drought
  3. 2019 excessive moisture conditions resulting in farmer prevented planting losses
  4. 2020 Midwest derecho
  5. Hurricane losses in the Southeast in 2020
  6. Drought in the Northern Plains in 2021

It is important to point out that as farmers with crop insurance have been financially protected from these weather events, the crop insurance program has operated well within its statutorily required actuarial soundness mandate. Since 1995, crop insurance premiums have exceeded indemnities.

Crop insurance’s mission is about more than the number of catastrophic weather events and dollars going out the door. It’s personal. Family farmers depend on crop insurance to maintain their way of life and support the local agricultural economy. For many rural towns, a healthy and resilient agricultural economy is also vital to their economic success.

Critics of the Federal crop insurance program have stated that the program does not encourage or require farmers to adapt to climate change. Such criticism ignores the evolution of the program to accommodate the integration of conservation programs and farmer initiatives to incorporate climate smart farming practices.

The guidelines for program participation, based on good farming practices, have evolved over time. Since 2014, farmers have been required to report their conservation plans in order to be eligible for crop insurance. In the 2018 Farm Bill, the use of cover crops was incorporated into the portfolio of good farming practices.

In a study published in 2020 in the Journal of Environmental Management, the authors report that crop insurance and conservation practices serve unique roles and are used simultaneously. Further, they report that the crop insurance program is not a barrier to the adoption of conservation practices such as cover crops and conservation tillage among Midwest farmers.

According to the study, “…results suggest that resiliency for Midwest operations includes both crop insurance and conservation practices. Neither behavior was found to inhibit the other. On the contrary, corn producers experienced complimentary outcomes from a combined approach that was greater than participation in either behavior by itself.

To state that the modern-day crop insurance program does not support farmers’ efforts to adapt to climate change or reduce greenhouse gas emissions is simply not true.

The Federal crop insurance program has demonstrated the flexibility to accommodate change. These changes have been, and will continue to be, science based, data driven, and provide incentives for voluntary participation by farmers.

Farmers Emphasize to Congress Importance of Crop Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USDA Chief Actuary Highlights Crop Insurance Strengths

America’s farmers and ranchers face an incredible number of risks every year, ranging from catastrophic weather events to market disruptions. That’s why rural America relies on the risk management tools provided by the Federal crop insurance program.

Dr. Thomas Worth, Chief Actuary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency, recently spoke at an Agri-Pulse forum and highlighted some of the strengths of crop insurance, especially as farmers take action to combat climate change.

Farming is a dynamic environment, Worth said. So, the Federal crop insurance program has to be dynamic as well to accurately reflect risks and help farmers adopt conservation practices.

USDA is constantly updating premium rates and analyzing data to reflect a farmer’s actual risk.

“We’re always looking at and making refinements to mapping out high risk land like flood plains” Worth cited as an example, as well as evaluating weather trends and looking at region-specific agronomics.

One way that the Federal crop insurance program is designed to incentivize practices that benefit the environment is by utilizing a farmer’s Actual Production History. This is a self-correcting feature that discounts premiums for any producer who improves their performance.

This naturally incentivizes farmers to adopt best practices and techniques for their area – and avoid practices that would harm their performance, such as planting on land not appropriate for their crop.

“Farmers are highly motivated to take measures to mitigate [their risks] and crop insurance is structured so that farmers are best off when they grow a full crop,” Worth said, calling this a “results-based discount.”

Worth pointed to cover crops as an example of one practice that is gaining popularity. The USDA recognizes cover crops as a Good Farming Practice, which encourages farmers to use cover crops to prioritize soil health and resiliency. Ultimately, the use of cover crops can help reduce risk and improve a farmer’s yields, resulting in lower crop insurance premiums.

In fact, the Journal of Environmental Management recently published a peer-reviewed study that credited crop insurance with encouraging the adoption of conservation practices, such as cover crops.

Importantly, Worth emphasized the importance of crop insurance to the farm safety net and said it plays a critical role in helping farmers adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.

“The investments needed to make a farm resilient are generally long term in nature or may take a number of years before the benefit is fully realized,” Worth said. These types of investments can be difficult to make when a farm could go under after one bad year.

“Crop insurance provides the kind of financial stability, that will enhance the ability of farmers to think long-term, and to make the investments needed to adapt and be more resilient,” Worth said.

Crop insurance is proud to work with America’s farmers and ranchers to improve conservation practices and support a healthy environment.

Celebrating the Incredible Women of Crop Insurance

Last week, as we celebrated Women in History Month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a special conversation to honor the women who work in the crop insurance industry.

Kendall Jones, chair of the National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) and president and CEO of ProAg, and crop insurance agents and industry leaders Iris Sáenz and Pat Swanson participated in the discussion moderated by Richard Flournoy, Acting Administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

Each of the women spoke about their careers in agriculture and the important contributions made by women in the crop insurance industry over the years.

“This industry is led by so many female agents in the field, so many female adjusters, people who do so much hard work,” Jones said. “I’m impressed with so many of the agents that I know today – not only are they running their agencies, they’re helping run farms or running the farms themselves, they have other businesses, they support the industry, their communities… They’re an inspiration to us all.”

Sáenz spoke about how women have always been key to food and farming.

“From the field to the table, women have always played an important role in agriculture. Since Indigenous tribes freely roamed these lands, women have been the primary providers of nourishment for their families and communities. Perhaps that is why many of us here today are inclined to dedicate ourselves to our agricultural communities… that is why it is so important that we, as women, come together to lift each other up.”

It’s important to honor the incredible work of the women in the crop insurance industry – and continue to share the stories of these women to inspire future generations of farmers, ranchers and agents.

Jones advised women who are just beginning their careers to be curious and take risks. Mistakes are inevitable, but with mistakes will also come successes that will build your confidence.

Swanson echoed this advice to be continually curious.

“My biggest advice to everyone… never stop learning. I feel it is so important to continue learning about your industry, about your farmers, about your customers you serve,” she said. “Never be afraid to ask questions.”

While each woman’s story and experience in agriculture has been unique, each found a fulfilling career working in the crop insurance industry and helping America’s farmers and ranchers manage their risks.

“From the cherry orchards in Michigan to the boardroom of the USDA building in Washington, DC, crop insurance has given me endless opportunities along the way,” Sáenz said.

We applaud the women of crop insurance for sharing their inspiring stories and grateful that they are helping continue the legacy of strong women in agriculture.

Crop Insurance Backs Farmers During Unprecedented Uncertainty

Crop insurance has been there for rural America through the many uncertainties that farmers and ranchers face every single day. It’s helped agricultural producers survive droughts, tornados, blizzards, floods, low prices, prevented plantings and even volcanos.

Still, over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced new and unprecedented challenges as farmers navigate supply chain disruptions and try to predict how this crisis will affect demand for the products they raise. Yet, despite these difficulties, farmers continue their essential work to feed, clothe and fuel our nation.

So, we have no doubt that we will weather this storm, together, as well.

Crop insurance helps manage some of the risk that farmers still face. Because Mother Nature does not abide by stay-at-home orders and droughts, floods and freezes will inevitably occur, regardless of the pandemic.

Now more than ever, as farmers are planting their crops while facing an unpredictable future, crop insurance is a familiar tool, with a track record of success, that farmers can rely on as they work to feed America and the world. And we are proud to be a trusted partner to so many famers across the country, protecting more than 90 percent of planted acres.

Crop insurers, agents and our partners at USDA have been hard at work to support our producers and we are proud to maintain our incredible record of service to the America farmer during these uncertain times.

We are so grateful for rural America’s tireless commitment to ensuring that we have safe, affordable and nourishing food to provide for our families. That’s why, through this pandemic –  and all storms large and small – we’ve got your back.

Crop Insurance Vital to America’s Family Farms

Just before the end of 2018, the Economic Research Service at the United States Department of Agriculture released a report analyzing data from a 2017 survey of farmers across the country. This report – titled “America’s Diverse Family Farms” – presents the facts behind farming in America.

According to the USDA:

  • Ninety-eight percent of U.S. farms are family farms, and they account for 87 percent of farm production.
  • Family farms categorized as midsize or large produced 62 percent of America’s food and fiber and accounted for 6 out of 10 harvested acres in 2017.
  • One-third of U.S. farm goods are produced under forward contracts to help manage price and production risks.
  • Seven in 10 American farms have an operating profit margin in the “red zone,” indicating a high risk of financial problems.
  • Farm income has declined almost 40 percent since 2013, and more than 40 percent of farms are now relying on income generated off the farm to make ends meet.

The crop insurance system that protects these family farms and makes forward contracting possible in today’s difficult financial environment was also mentioned in the report.

Two-thirds of midsize farms and three-fourths of large farms participate in crop insurance, the report found.

National Crop Insurance Services has traveled the country for the past year hearing first-hand from family farmers in Iowa to Colorado to North Carolina and elsewhere about their experiences. The message has overwhelmingly been that crop insurance is an invaluable tool for America’s farmers and ranchers, and that policymakers should “do no harm to crop insurance.”

Be sure to check out their stories and learn more about crop insurance’s importance to your state at www.cropinsuranceinmystate.org.

USDA: Farmers Face Unrivaled Income Volatility

According to a survey of more than 20,000 American farmers, 58 percent have experienced income fluctuations of at least 50 percent over the course of two consecutive years.  Fewer than 10 percent for all U.S. households experienced the same level of variation.

USDA’s Economic Research Service examined farmers’ income volatility from 1997 to 2013 using the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, the most comprehensive survey of U.S. farm households.

The report suggests that the 1.4 million people who consider farming their primary occupation may struggle to obtain credit, expand and pay debt due to such extreme shifts in income.

“Farming is risky business and this new study helps define just how risky,” said Tom Zacharias, an economist and president of National Crop Insurance Services. “But the study also shows the public-private partnership that is federal crop insurance is helping farm families deal with that risk.”

Farms growing insured crops were reported to have their annual income volatility decline faster than other farms.

“These results suggest that efforts to increase risk management as a center piece of farm programs have had a positive effect in lowering farm income variability,” Zacharias observed. “The study is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that shows crop insurance is a fiscally responsible tool for farmers and the American taxpayer.”

Crop insurance is delivered by the private sector, which helps maximize efficiency. Farmers collectively pay $3.5 to $4 billion a year for protection, so taxpayers aren’t left holding the entire bag after disaster strikes. It also means faster payments after verified losses instead of waiting for Congress to approve disaster relief legislation.

Today, it covers more than 130 different kinds of crops and protects a record 311 million acres of ranch and farmland – an area the size of California, Texas and New York combined.

Crop insurance gives banks confidence to extend loans because it helps farmers manage their business’ unique risks and avoid bankruptcy after floods and droughts.

“The well-documented track record of crop insurance, along with this new study and the many that have come before it, makes a strong case for continuing to provide a safety net for farmers that maintains a strong crop insurance component,” concluded Zacharias.

USDA Under Secretary Scuse on Crop Insurance: “I wouldn’t dream of farming without it.”

scusemichaelUSDA’s under secretary for Farm and Foreign Ag Services, Michael Scuse, openly admits he didn’t always buy crop insurance on his Delaware farm back in the 1980s and 90s.   But today, he wouldn’t consider farming without it.

“Back in the 1980s and 90s, you couldn’t give me crop insurance. It didn’t work on my farm,” said Scuse during a recent meeting with participants of the Illinois Farm Bureau Marketers trip to Washington that appeared in Farm Week Now.

Scuse noted that “since (USDA) changed the program and developed revenue (protection) products, I wouldn’t dream of farming without it.”

Of course, in response to producer demands and the 2014 Farm Bill, new crop insurance products are being tested to come on the market nearly every year and USDA continues to refine crop insurance programs through the Risk Management Agency (RMA).  ”We continue to get requests to include more crops and to make it more user-friendly,” he said.

Given the increased volatility of the weather that we’ve seen over the last decade, those new products will be critical for farmers and ranchers alike.  With input costs rising, crop prices falling and the elimination of direct payments to farmers, crop insurance is by far the most important risk management tool in virtually any farmers’ tool belt.

RMA Associate Administrator Tim Gannon told the group that the crop insurance program has come under public scrutiny in recent years as the Federal government looks to control spending.  That is why farmers need to defend the program and ensure that consumers and members of Congress understand why crop insurance is critical to the overall well being of America’s rural sector.  “Your ability to tell the story of what crop insurance represents will be critical,” he said.

Gannon pointed out that crop insurance saved many farmers after the drought of 2012. “It’s not just a handout,” he noted.

Illinois farmer Martin Andris explained in a 2012 interview during the heart of the historic drought that in the past when drought stuck the area, he wasn’t protected by crop insurance.  “Those recoveries were tough.  When you struggle to have a crop in a given year, then you’re taking two to three years to recover…” he said.  “My goodness, it is so much easier to sleep at night when you have the protection of insurance,” he added.

Congressional Leaders, Administration Officials and Farm Groups Praise Crop Insurance

“Over the last 15 years, crop insurance is where we have been trying to help move farmers in terms of taking advantage of risk management tools for their crops,” House Majority Leader John Boehner told Agri-Pulse during a taped interview. The leader’s comments came as both the House and Senate began hearings on the next Farm Bill and would be debating the future of farm safety net programs.

Boehner assured listeners that crop insurance would remain as a centerpiece for managing risks on the farm. “It is still the central focus of where we think farmers ought to be able to have easy access to insure their crops and insure some type of revenue out of it. It makes the most sense to me and always has,” he noted.

Crop insurance enjoys strong support in the Obama Administration as well. USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse told attendees at the 2013 crop insurance annual conference that recent weather disasters have put the nation’s crop insurance system to the test, and the popular public-private partnership had met the challenge. “To this day, I have yet to have a single producer call me with a complaint about crop insurance,” he said. “That is a testament to just how well your agents, your adjusters, the companies, and Risk Management Agency (RMA) worked together in one of the worst droughts in the history of this nation.”

Just days after those comments were made, a coalition of more than 40 commodity groups, lending organizations, input suppliers and other agricultural industry stakeholders sent a letter to members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees in support of meaningful and affordable crop insurance.

The letter reminded elected officials that in agriculture, risk is always present and that crop loss will occur in some part of the United States each year.

“The significant, widespread crop losses of 2011 and 2012 have clearly demonstrated the need for crop insurance protection and the public-private partnership of program delivery,” the letter stated.

The signatories noted that crop insurance is the cornerstone of most farmers’ risk management portfolios, and that farmers pay a premium to enjoy its protection. “Federal crop insurance provides and effective risk management tool to farmers and ranchers of all sizes when they are facing losses beyond their control, reduces taxpayer risk exposure, makes hedging possible to help mitigate market volatility and provides lenders with greater certainty that loans to producers will be repaid,” the letter stated.

The 2011 Crop Year is Off to a Challenging Start

The hopes of the largest and most profitable harvest in U.S. history are being placed into question by a series of historic weather events that are inflicting major damage to America’s agricultural heartland.

A cold spring followed by heavy, constant rain and flooding in the corn belt has resulted in extensive delays in plantings with only about 63 percent of the U.S. corn crop being planted to date – considerably less than the five year average of nearly 75 percent – according to the May 16th USDA Crop Progress report.

Illinois, the second largest corn producing state, is still lagging behind the national average with only 69 percent of the crop being planted, compared to the average of 74 percent over the last five years.

In other states, the news is much worse. In Minnesota, the fourth largest corn producing state, only 47 percent of the crop has been planted compared to the historic average for this date of 81 percent. Indiana, the fifth largest corn producing state only has 29 percent of its crop planted. Ohio, the seventh largest corn state is still in the single digits at seven percent compared the historical average of 70 percent and North Dakota finally broke into the teens at 14 percent.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service shows that more than half the winter wheat in Kansas – the nation’s largest wheat producer – is now rated in poor to very poor condition. Reports are even worse to the south, where 80 percent of the Oklahoma winter wheat crop and 75 percent of the Texas crop are in poor to very poor condition. Among the 18 major winter wheat-growing states overall, 44 percent of the crop is rated in poor to very poor condition.

The flooding that has swept through the Midwest and is moving south will result in further damage to this year’s crop.

Underpinning the vast majority of these crops is crop insurance, which according to estimates by National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS), would be written for at least $110 billion worth of crop insurance liability this year, the largest amount in U.S. history. Farmer participation in crop insurance continues at historically high levels. In fact, in 2010, nearly 80 percent of the U.S. crop – 256 million acres of farmland – were protected by crop insurance.

“The advantage of protecting our farmers with crop insurance is that when Mother Nature strikes as she is doing this year, it will be private industry working with USDA to ensure that we maintain financial stability for our agricultural production sector, ” said Tom Zacharias, NCIS president.

“The crop insurance industry is deeply concerned about the recent flooding situations and damage to this year’s crop. At this time, it is too early to tell how severe the damage will be, but in partnership with USDA, the industry stands ready to assist insured farmers in assessing the damage to their crops and farmland,” said Zacharias. “The federal crop insurance program is designed to provide protection for farmers affected by natural disasters, which unfortunately occur in the unpredictable and volatile business of agricultural production,” he added.