Farmers Helped Protect Crop Insurance During 2018 Farm Bill Debate

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

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

Heather Hampton Knodle from Fillmore, Illinois:

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

Ben Scholz, President of the Texas Wheat Producers Association:

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

John Giesenschlag from Snook, Texas:

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

Noah Hultgren from Wilmar, Minnesota:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Crop Insurance Program Integrity Continues to Improve

Crop insurance’s already-low improper payment rate — a closely-watched standardized measure of waste and efficiency – improved again in 2018.

Martin Barbre, Administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), delivered the good news this week while addressing the crop insurance industry’s annual convention.

The FY2018 rate of 1.81 percent marked the fourth consecutive year it declined, falling from 2017’s 1.96 percent and 2.02 percent and 2.20 percent in 2016 and 2015. The USDA and private-sector insurers made program integrity improvement a top priority following an improper payment rate of more than 5 percent in 2014.

“RMA has continued to improve program integrity for federal crop insurance through an effective public-private partnership with our Approved Insurance Providers,” Barbre said.

Improper payments occur when funds go to the wrong recipient; when the correct recipient receives too little or too much; or when the recipient uses funds in an improper manner. Many errors are simply rooted in data entry and reporting mistakes.

The government closely monitors improper payments for all major federal spending programs, and the last time a government-wide figure was posted, it was twice as high as crop insurance’s rate.

Tom Zacharias, the president of National Crop Insurance Services, which sponsored this week’s meetings, said the news illustrates the power of the crop insurance system’s unique public-private partnership and is a testament to investments made in recent years.

“Crop insurers enjoy a tremendous partnership with the USDA, and we work closely together to ensure that we are good stewards of taxpayer dollars and are constantly improving efficiencies for America’s farmers and ranchers,” he said.

Zacharias noted that the partnership fosters investment in data collection, education and training, monitoring and new research and technology to continually improve.

“In addition to the USDA’s hard work, the private sector is spending millions every year to maximize program integrity,” he concluded. “This new data is proof that crop insurance is a highly efficient, well-run public-private partnership.”

Farm Groups Defend Crop Insurance Budget

Farmers and legislators celebrated the end of 2018 with the passage of a bipartisan Farm Bill that preserves the farm safety net and provides farmers with the tools they need to manage the unique risks of farming.

As Congress begins the annual appropriations and budget process, America’s agricultural community joined forces to ensure that the crop insurance program receives the full funding that it requires to be successful.

Sixty organizations, ranging from farm groups to conservation organizations and lenders, sent a letter yesterday to the House and Senate Budget Committees, as well as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging them to protect crop insurance during the budget process in recognition of its central importance to farmers and the rural economy.

Trying to balance the federal budget on the backs of farmers and ranchers would be a mistake, they wrote, with disastrous consequences for America’s heartland.

USDA has projected that 2018 farm profitability will be lower than it has been in over a decade, and farm income dropped more than 45% in five years. An over-reliance on budget savings from the agriculture community and from crop insurance will unquestionably undermine rural economies.  It’s also important to note that in a time of uncertainty in the farming and ranching community – from natural disasters to trade disputes to government shutdowns – the public-private partnership that is crop insurance has been a consistent and reliable risk management tool.  The certainty of federal crop insurance also offers lenders the assurances they need to continue to provide capital to America’s hard-working farmers and ranchers….

Cuts to crop insurance during this difficult time for rural America should be avoided.  Farmers and lawmakers agree that crop insurance is a linchpin of the farm safety net and is crucial to the economic and food security of rural America. The importance of crop insurance was just reaffirmed less than two months ago with the passage and signing of the 2018 Farm Bill, and we urge you to oppose cuts to crop insurance during this year’s budget process. 

Crop insurers and their allies in agriculture have been successful in fending off past attempts to weaken the farm safety net by harming this vital risk management tool. The overwhelming support crop insurance received during the 2018 Farm Bill debate is a testament to how popular the program has become – covering a record 334 million acres.

2018 Farm Bill Strengthens Crop Insurance

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

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

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

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

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

Notable provisions included:

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

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

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

Crop Insurance Sets Record, Saves Money, Protects America’s Heartland in 2018

More than 334 million acres of farmland were protected by crop insurance in 2018, a 20 million acre increase over 2017 and an all-time high. And, crop insurance came in $2 billion under original federal budget projections for the year.

Jim Korin, chairman of National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) and president of NAU Country Insurance Company, noted these accomplishments, among others, in his opening remarks at the crop insurance industry’s annual meeting this week.

With more than 1.1 million crop insurance policies sold to farmers across the nation, Korin credited the growing popularity of crop insurance to the exceptional service provided by private-sector insurers and the unique working relationship they share with the government.

“The public-private partnership that defines crop insurance has been successful in providing the important safety net for our farmers and the rural areas where they live,” Korin said. He noted that the crop insurance industry has been able to quickly pay claims while routinely coming in below budget projections, saving taxpayers billions.

Under the successful crop insurance model, farmers invested in their own protection by paying $3.7 billion in premiums and shouldering a significant portion of losses through deductibles.

This public-private partnership was further reinforced with the overwhelming passage of a bipartisan Farm Bill in December that strengthened crop insurance and firmly rebuffed efforts by some critics to make the program less affordable and available to farmers.

“With everything that occurred during the year, nothing defined the world of agriculture more than the debate and passage of the 2018 Farm Bill,” said Korin. “This process saw congressional field hearings from coast to coast and a steady call from farmers across the nation to ‘do no harm’ to the crop insurance safety net.”

Larry Heitman, chairman of the American Association of Crop Insurers and senior vice president of NAU Country Insurance Company, also addressed the convention and said maintaining this kind of support from farmers will continue to be important moving forward.

“As tempting as it may be to relax until the next Farm Bill negotiations begin again, let’s remember our program is a target for those that want to redirect agricultural funds to their own causes or programs,” he told the group. “We must continue to maintain and strengthen our partnership with agriculture commodity associations and conservation and wildlife protection groups to work together for a coalition to benefit all Americans – rural and urban.”

Heitman and Korin explained that the industry’s attention will now turn to working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure a smooth implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, while continuing to serve rural America.

Korin concluded, “We must remember our purpose: To provide exceptional coverage and service to farmers and ranchers to help them do what they do best…feed and clothe the world.”

NCIS Fosters Next Generation Through Agriculture Scholarships

Our nation’s farmers come from every walk of life. Our workforce should reflect that fact.

National Crop Insurance Services is exceptionally proud to help foster the next generation of America’s agricultural community and promote diversity through the NCIS 1890 Scholarship Program.

Since 2010, NCIS has distributed nearly two dozen scholarships to students at historically-black 1890 Land Grant Universities in order to assist these students in completing their education and preparing for a career in agriculture. This scholarship program is a key part of a broader effort to proactively increase diversity in the crop insurance industry in recognition of the vibrant and varied communities we serve.

This year, NCIS awarded scholarships to five students who had demonstrated their academic prowess and an interest in agriculture. These deserving recipients were highlighted in December’s issue of Crop Insurance Today magazine.

Scholarship recipient Aaron Dore, from McDonough, Georgia, is majoring in economics with a concentration in agribusiness and a minor in business logistics at Fort Valley State University. Notably, Aaron has made the Dean’s List while playing cornerback for the FVSU Wildcats and conducting student research on organic vegetables.

Aaron wasn’t the only FVSU Wildcat to receive an NCIS scholarship. Hailing from the town of Louisville, Georgia, Jerstashia Sims is hoping to use her degree in agricultural economics to help lift up others from economically depressed rural communities.

“There have been semesters where I couldn’t take many classes due to how much financial aid I had. I would like to thank [NCIS] because that scholarship helps get me closer to graduation,” Jerstashia said.

Ashli Holloway is majoring in animal science at Alcorn State University. Originally from Stockbridge, Georgia, Ashli plans on working in the animal care industry and has dedicated time during her summer vacations to attend the Veterinary Science Training, Education and Preparation Institute at Tuskegee University.

Fellow animal science major Mary Mitchell grew up in the tiny town of Kremlin, Oklahoma, population 255. Now a junior at Langston University, this NCIS scholarship provides Mary with unique opportunities to continue developing her exceptional leadership skills.

Wesley Adair Maximilian Benson, known to most as just Max, is from Ardmore, Oklahoma, and is studying natural resources management at Langston University. Max is a positive role model for his peers, volunteering to help students who are struggling in classes and promoting mutual respect among his classmates.

Each of these students will bring their unique understanding of the issues facing our rural communities to their future careers in agriculture. NCIS congratulates them for receiving this hard-earned scholarship opportunity and we look forward to celebrating all of their future accomplishments.

New to Crop Insurance? Here’s How it Works

Every day, farmers spend long hours working the land and caring for livestock so they can provide high-quality food at an affordable price for all Americans across the nation.

This amazing feat would not be possible, however, without the critical safety net that crop insurance provides.

Farming presents a unique set of risks and a farmer’s financial well-being relies on factors as unpredictable and varied as changes in weather, the spread of disease, or the rapid fluctuation of market conditions.

With such a wide variety of potential risks and the likelihood that any particular event is geographically concentrated – an entire county could see their growing season ruined within mere moments by a tornado or freeze – the traditional private industry insurance model simply would not work for crop insurance.

The government developed the public-private partnership of federal crop insurance in order to protect and support farmers and thereby helping to stabilize the economies of the rural communities that rely on agriculture, without leaving taxpayers solely on the hook financially.

Under this successful model, farmers contract with any one of the 15 private insurance companies authorized to sell crop insurance by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency, paying a premium in order to protect their crops. These insurance companies, or Approved Insurance Providers (AIP), work hand-in-hand with the federal government to help manage costs that would otherwise make coverage unattainable for the average farmer.

While the government sets rates and rules for the plans that can be sold and provides program oversight, it is the responsibility of the AIPs to write policies, as well as adjust and process claims. That means when disaster strikes, private industry can react quickly to assess damages and issue payments due, providing farmers and the communities who rely on their income with relative stability.

This public-private partnership requires farmers, private insurance companies, and the federal government to share the burden of risk and incentivizes private companies to reduce fraud, waste, and abuse.

Today, federal crop insurance protects more than 130 types of crops covering more than 330 million acres in all 50 states. So, from clams to cranberries, soybeans to sunflowers, our farmers can rest a bit easier knowing that this safety net exists.

And while farms and agriculture-related industries add over $900 billion annually to the American economy and create work for 21 million Americans, the cost for federal crop insurance represents just one quarter of one percent of the federal budget.

This seems like a worthwhile investment to ensure our farmers can continue providing food and fiber for our nation.

Family Farms in Iowa Find Crop Insurance Invaluable

The Swanson family has been rooted in Wapello County, Iowa for over 170 years. Don Swanson and his brother, Bill, grew up watching their fathers work the land. “It’s just a passion that we grew up with,” Don said.

It’s a passion that Don and Bill hope to pass along to their children and grandchildren.

But modern-day farming is more than the inherent satisfaction that comes from harvesting a crop planted from seed or raising the next generation of livestock.

“I wish I had time to do what lay persons consider farming – driving the tractor, feeding the cows,” Don laments. “It’s a full time job for me just managing the books, managing the risk, forward planning and strategic planning.”

National Crop Insurance Services has traveled across the country to talk to farmers and agriculture lenders on the ground to learn what crop insurance means to their farms, families, and communities. For the Swanson family, they would be left vulnerable without the safety net that crop insurance provides.

“Crop insurance protects that bottom line… It’s by far the best government program we have, hands down,” Don said.

Another multi-generation Iowa farmer, Dustin Johnson, enjoys being able to share the rewards of his labor with his children and expose them to the first-hand educational experiences that a working farm provides.

“In a world where technology has kind of taken over, it’s still nice to be able to bring the kids out, ride around in the tractor, get to see first-hand what Dad does every day,” he noted.

When Dustin started farming, the amount of capital required for essential items was daunting. Especially when his income relied not only on his hard work, but the hazards of unpredictable weather, and market fluctuations.

“The risks go way beyond anything that I can control,” Dustin explained. “Which is a really good thing to have crop insurance for.”

Crop insurance gives Dustin the peace of knowing that even in a down year, “we’re still going to have a safety there that we’re going to be able to farm next year.”

For many Iowa towns, agriculture is not only an integral part of the community but also critical to their economic success.

Erica Wuthrich from Bloomfield, Iowa, explains, “The majority of the families around here are farmers… if we didn’t have the farming operations around here, it wouldn’t be good – it would be awful.”

As young farmers, Erica and her husband, Brent, rely on the stability that crop insurance provides in order to keep their farm running. “We don’t make money from it, but it helps us sustain our operation,” Erica said.

Another young Iowa farmer, Colin Johnson, echoes this sentiment, “A component like crop insurance and the assistance that we get, as a young farmer, that helps me know I can continue farming another year. I have been farming for nine years on my own, and… I probably wouldn’t have lasted two years without my crop insurance support.”

Iowa farmers know first-hand that farming does not mean an easy harvest or quick profit. Jared Lyle, Senior Vice President and Senior Loan Officer for Iowa State Bank and Trust in Fairfield, stresses to his agriculture customers the importance of protecting their farms by purchasing crop insurance.

“It’s more a matter of a safety net to keep them from not losing quite as much money and keeping them in business,” Jared explains.

Weakening the public-private partnership of federal crop insurance would be detrimental to the Iowa families that Iowa State Bank and Trust serves.

“There will be less farmers in business for sure, if they lose that safety net,” Jared said. “Ag is very important. I would hate to see anybody underestimate that.”

New Farm Bill with Strong Crop Insurance Becomes Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crop Insurers Comment on Farm Bill Conference Report

Leaders from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees yesterday released details of the 2018 Farm Bill compromise.

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

Farmers and ranchers have seen their fair share of challenges in 2018 – from hurricanes, drought and wildfires to depressed commodity prices. The farm bill conference committee took a huge step today in helping them cope with these challenges by releasing a bipartisan package. We urge Congress to pass the farm bill immediately.

The 2018 Farm Bill maintains a strong crop insurance system because lawmakers knew that agriculture’s top risk management tool would be needed during these difficult times. They ensured that private-sector crop insurance would remain affordable and widely available for producers despite attempts by opponents of crop insurance to weaken this critical component of the farm safety net.

We applaud the leaders and members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, and the farm bill conferees, for crafting a comprehensive piece of legislation that has earned the backing of the agricultural community. We also thank our customers, who told lawmakers from Day 1 that protecting crop insurance was a top priority throughout this process.

Once Congress passes the new farm bill, we ask that the president quickly sign it into law, so America’s farmers and ranchers will have some certainty heading into the new year.

Both chambers of Congress will now vote on the pending conference report. If it passes, the 2018 Farm Bill will be sent to the White House for President Trump’s signature.

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)

Farm Bill Conferees Speak out for Crop Insurance

Farm Bill conferees from the House and the Senate got together yesterday for a public meeting, and the 56 legislators in attendance were each given three minutes to discuss their priorities.

In the hours of testimony that followed, not a single negative word about crop insurance was uttered.  But, there were plenty of accolades.

Below is a collection of some of what was said about crop insurance.

 “We can all agree that our farmers should have robust risk management tools, including strong crop insurance assistance and new tools for our dairy farmers who’ve been struggling. … I do not believe these critical programs should be targeted for cuts.”

-Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)

 

 “We both start out recognizing that crop insurance is number one, right? So we maintain crop insurance. That’s our number one risk management tool for our farmers on the safety net.”

-Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

 

 “We’ve protected a strong safety net by maintaining a crop insurance program that will allow producers to stay competitive and be more innovative.”

-Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA)

 

 “Farm country needs a multi-year bill that protects crop insurance, tightens the safety net, opens markets, and makes responsible investments in our communities.”

-Rep. Roger Marshall (R-KS)

 

The House and Senate bills both maintain “the highest priority of our farmers and that is the maintenance of a good crop insurance program. I heard it at every town hall, every forum, and every conversation with a farmer.”

-Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND)

 

“As a member of the House Ag committee, I also understand the necessity of this bill in strengthening several key provisions. This includes protecting crop insurance….”

-Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL)

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.”

Lawmakers Stress Importance of Crop Insurance as Farm Bill Moves Forward

As the Farm Bill moves from passage to a conference committee between the House and Senate chambers to reconcile differences, lawmakers have been vocal in their support of crop insurance to our nation’s farmers.

Here is just a small sampling of press statements by several U.S. Senators and Congressmen since the vote:

“I’m proud to advocate for Hoosier farmers through efforts to protect crop insurance, to make sure they have access to credit, and to do all I can to help farmers navigate significant challenges – from depressed commodity prices to chaotic trade markets and unforeseen weather events.” – Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)

“Agriculture and farming are vital to the fabric of our nation, and are an enduring legacy of the great state of Texas. Resources like crop insurance provide farmers with an economic safety net for their efforts to feed and supply their fellow Americans, in good times and bad, and ensure food security for our nation.”  – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)

“We worked to ensure that the Senate Farm Bill provides strong crop insurance, improves the countercyclical safety net and provides producers with greater access to capital because good farm policy benefits every American, every day with the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world.” – Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND)

“I’m proud of the bipartisan policies the Senate advanced … which protect crop insurance, improve critical trade promotion programs, and expand broadband deployment capabilities in rural America.” – Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)

“The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill is a strong bill for North Dakota, and I fought to include many of the priorities I’ve been hearing from North Dakota farmers and ranchers like protecting and strengthening crop insurance.” – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

“What our farmers do is crucial to our economy and feeding the world. I’m proud to support their hard work in Congress by fighting to pass another Farm Bill that protects crop insurance and other policies critical to agriculture.” –  Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL)

“I spent my life around agriculture policy…It is imperative that we have a strong Farm Bill that provides a credible federal crop insurance program.” – Rep. James Comer (R-UT)

America’s crop insurers appreciate the support of these lawmakers and the many others who stood up for farmers during the Farm Bill debate.

New Study: Farmers Will Buy Less Crop Insurance If It Costs More

In their quest to harm farm policy, critics have long contended that crop insurance is so vital to farmers that changes in premium rates will have no impact on participation.

Such claims may be convenient for special interests hoping to weaken farmers’ most important risk management tool by making it more expensive, but the claims are also incorrect, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Crop insurance “would likely respond fairly abruptly to large cuts,” explained Dr. Josh Woodard, an associate professor at Cornell University, whose work was recently published in the Journal of Risk and Insurance.

Woodard observed that crop insurance demand is clearly responsive to price, as proven by the uptick in participation following Congressional actions over the years to provide premium support instead of ad hoc disaster payments.  A similar decrease in participation would naturally occur if coverage costs more, he explained.

Results from Woodard’s analysis of the demand for crop insurance on Illinois corn found that participants would purchase lower levels of insurance coverage as premium prices rise.  In fact, some participants may drop out of buy-up coverage altogether, Woodard noted.

“Crop insurance is already expensive for farmers but is necessary to obtain loans to invest in new technologies and conservation activities,” he wrote.  “Significantly cutting this support will not only hinder farmers’ ability to invest in sustainable farm operations, but may push many farmers out insurance and eventually out of business.”

The findings are groundbreaking as past analysis of crop insurance assumed demand to be unresponsive to price, due to a shortcoming in the way past researcher’s estimated demand. Woodard’s methodology corrects for that limitation, which should improve the reliability of future research in the field.

Though the paper does not advocate for or against crop insurance, it notes, “Policy makers should be properly informed by the most applicable and relevant research when seeking to estimate the impacts of policy changes on demand. This is particularly true in light of consideration of prospective rate-making changes in the program.”

The study was published shortly after the House and Senate concluded debate on the 2018 Farm Bill.  Both chambers passed bills that kept crop insurance strong and rebuffed efforts to make the program more expensive by cutting funding, capping benefits, and limiting participation using an arbitrary income means test.

“A lot of farmers simply would not be able to afford their insurance coverage any longer if Congress were to substantially increase premium rates,” Woodard concluded.  “The long run costs of that should be factored into any policy decisions. I think lawmakers, correctly, understand this reality.”

Lawmakers’ support for crop insurance, which has become a cornerstone of U.S. farm policy, is not surprising.  Prior to crop insurance’s rise to prominence, taxpayers were called upon to fully fund ad hoc aid after disasters.  That was both expensive and inefficient.

With crop insurance, farmers pay for a portion of their safety net – collectively between $3.5 and $4 billion a year – so taxpayers don’t shoulder all the risk.  And aid arrives in weeks, not months or years, because private-sector insurers process claims instead of the government.

The program’s popularity has steadily increased as Congress has made investments to make crop insurance more affordable and available for farmers.  In 2017, it protected more than $100 billion worth of agricultural goods on a record 311 million acres of land.

Rural America to U.S. Senate: Do No Harm to Crop Insurance

More than 600 trade organizations and companies throughout rural America sent U.S. Senators a clear message today about crop insurance as they prepare to debate the 2018 Farm Bill.

“As you consider the 2018 Farm Bill on the Senate floor, we urge you to oppose harmful amendments to crop insurance, including those that would 1) reduce or limit participation in crop insurance, 2) make insurance more expensive for farmers during a time of economic downturn in agriculture, or 3) harm private-sector delivery,” the groups wrote in a joint letter.

The signers, which range from farm groups to financial lenders, rural businesses and conservation organizations, explained their strong support for farmers’ primary risk management tool:

Without crop insurance most producers simply could not qualify for the operating loans they need to put a crop in the ground.  Due to extremely tight margins in agriculture, regulators examining agriculture lending portfolios typically insist borrowers have crop insurance.

Crop insurance is available to all types and sizes of producers in all regions.

Crop insurance provides for environmental benefits.  Crop insurance requires producers to meet wetlands protections and highly erodible lands protections to be eligible for a premium discount.

Crop insurance is a rapid response solution to disasters.  Private-sector delivery typically allows farmers who have losses and have met their deductible to receive indemnity payments in less than thirty days, while ad hoc disaster can take months or even years.

Crop insurance protects jobs, both on and off the farm.  Crop insurance enables farmers to rebound quickly after a disaster and allows producers to pay credit obligations and other input expenses, such as fertilizer and farm equipment. 

And, they noted that consumers and taxpayers benefit as well since crop insurance reduces the need for expensive, unbudgeted disaster aid packages.

“Crop insurance is food and fiber security insurance, and food and fiber security is national security,” the letter concluded.  “Given the importance of crop insurance, the undersigned organizations urge you to support America’s farmers, ranchers, rural economies and national security by opposing amendments that would harm crop insurance.”

The letter can be read in its entirety here.

NCIS Launches Website Highlighting Crop Insurance in All 50 States

The Senate officially begins its Farm Bill process June 13, as the Agriculture Committee debates a draft bipartisan bill released last week by the panel’s top Republican and Democrat.

And thanks to a new website just unveiled by the National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS), Senators and other interested parties won’t have to look very far for information about how crop insurance affects every state in the country.

The new website, Crop Insurance In My State, offers an interactive map that provides visitors with access to state-specific information such as: number of crop insurance policies, acres insured, value of insurance protection, how much farmers paid for coverage, how much insurers paid to cover losses, and hail protection coverage.

In addition to the interactive map, the site includes 50 downloadable and printable fact sheets, as well as farmer testimonial videos and articles from several states. There’s also a dynamic social media feed.

“Crop insurance is a cornerstone to modern-day farm policy, and growers from coast to coast have called it their top Farm Bill priority,” explained Tom Zacharias, president of NCIS.  “This site really shows, on a state-by-state basis, the success of crop insurance and why it’s agriculture’s most important risk management tool.”

The new site pairs with the already established site Crop Insurance In America, which takes a national look at crop insurance and the record 311 million acres it protects.  The Crop Insurance In America site was first introduced 10 years ago, and has since been added to the Library of Congress’ prestigious historical collection.

New Study: ‘Efforts to Limit HPO Would Increase Risks to Farmers’

Just before the U.S. House of Representatives was set to vote on a Farm Bill amendment that would’ve crippled crop insurance, a Kansas State University economist sent key policymakers a note alerting them to a new study that shed light on the negative impact of reducing revenue insurance coverage.

The study he circulated was not produced by Kansas State, but its contents were so timely and so significant, that he felt compelled to help its authors at the University of Illinois spread the word.

That paper, by Illinois professors Gary Schnitkey and Jonathan Coppess, examined how farmers use revenue crop insurance tools like the Harvest Price Option (HPO) to help them forward contract their commodities.

“Recent criticism of crop insurance suggests that amendments could be placed in the Farm Bill to curtail HPO coverage,” the authors wrote.  “As a result, understanding farmers pre-harvest hedging activities is important.”

Very little information existed about how farmers use these kinds of techniques, so Schnitkey and Coppess began their work with a survey of Midwest growers.

“Survey results indicate that farmers use what can be termed prudent hedging strategies prior to harvest for marketing their crops,” the authors explained.  In fact, the survey found that 84% of Midwest farmers hedged a portion of their anticipated crop.

The study succinctly explained how it works:

Pursuant to a forward contract, a farmer agrees to deliver grain to a country elevator or processor at some point in the future, often near harvest time, but based on futures market prices at the time of the contract. This legally-binding contract locks in the price for the delivered grain as a hedge against lower prices at the time of delivery. While advantageous to the farmer in terms of protecting against lower prices, it also comes with risks that prices will increase, often as a result of lower yields for the crop nationally. In extreme situations, a farmer with significant yield losses may not have enough bushels to fulfill the contractual obligations and will need to purchase bushels to make delivery; bushels purchased in such a situation could well be at a higher price than the farmer contracted.

And that’s where HPO comes in.  Farmers pay more for the insurance option. It indemnifies losses at harvest-time prices rather than planting-time prices, enabling farmers to purchase enough commodity off the open market to fulfill their forward contract.

Without access to HPO, as some agricultural opponents are advocating, farmers would reduce pre-harvest hedging, the study found, and introduce even more risk into farming.  This is particularly troubling considering the survey also found that the farmers who most use these techniques also report to obtain the bulk of their families’ incomes from the farm.

“In other words, those impacted the most by this policy change (eliminating HPO) are those who most rely on farming for their family income,” the study concluded.  “Congressional efforts to limit HPO would increase risks to farmers.”

Lawmakers in the House overwhelmingly defeated the amendment designed to harm crop insurance, though it still needs to pass the Farm Bill.  The Senate is slated to begin its Farm Bill deliberations soon, where critics are again expected to attack HPO and other components of farmers’ primary risk management tool.

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.

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.

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.

New Crop Insurance Study Provides Valuable Farm Bill Insight

U.S. taxpayers fare better when the government discounts farmers’ crop insurance premiums rather than relying on unbudgeted disaster aid packages.  That’s according to a recent peer-reviewed study that used a novel mathematical model to study an issue that has been difficult to analyze empirically.

The study, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics (JARE), was recognized as the publication’s Outstanding Article of the Year for 2017.  It was authored by Dr. Harun Bulut, who holds a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State University and currently serves as a senior economist with National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS).

Bulut’s work specifically focuses on the choice in government policy between crop insurance and ad hoc disaster relief as a way of addressing catastrophic risk in agriculture.  This is a choice lawmakers currently face as they debate the 2018 Farm Bill.

Federal crop insurance has become a pillar of U.S. farm policy in recent years and is being considered by policymakers around the world.  As it stands, farmers collectively spend $3.5 to $4 billion from their own pockets to purchase insurance protection a year.

Even though it has become the top choice for farmers in mitigating risks, some critics still pan the public’s cost in reducing insurance premiums and are targeting the policy for cuts.

Since crop insurance’s rise, annual disaster bills, which are fully funded by taxpayers and used to be the norm, have been largely reduced.  That’s been welcomed news for farmers since the disaster bills of the past were often politically motivated and were slow to deliver relief.

Prior research in this arena offered a variety of reasons for government support of crop insurance.  But the research did not take into account the underlying tradeoff between insurance use and ad hoc disaster aid in what economists refer to as an equilibrium model.  In particular, econometric evaluations of farmers’ demand response when premium rates rise and fall have been of limited value, as explained in the article.

With a unique approach using mathematical game theory, Bulut was able to demonstrate that policy proposals calling for reductions in premium support may be underestimating the resulting demand response for crop insurance and the increased pressure for disaster aid packages.

Bulut’s work offers a reason for underinsurance in the absence of premium support in that “both disaster aid expectations and overconfidence drive a wedge between the actuarially estimated price and the price that is ‘fair’ from the farmers’ point of view.”

In the mathematical model, the cost arising from insurance premium support is found to be much less than would-be cost from ad hoc disaster aid in the absence of a viable crop insurance option.  The findings also imply that disaster aid can be used at a much lower level in the future but may not be eliminated.

Bulut’s work suggests that it will be important for lawmakers to recognize the reduced insurance participation and increased likelihood for ad hoc assistance associated with the proposals being championed by farm policy critics during the ongoing Farm Bill debate.

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.

Crop Insurers Send House Ag Committee a Letter of Support

One day prior to the House Agriculture Committee’s scheduled mark-up of the 2018 Farm Bill, crop insurers and agents sent Committee leaders a letter of support.  That letter can be read in its entirety below:

April 17, 2018

The Honorable Mike Conaway
The Honorable Collin Peterson
House Committee on Agriculture
1301 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC  20515

Dear Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson:

Over the past three years, Committee members have heard from hundreds of farmers spanning all corners of the country during field hearings and listening sessions.  One common refrain has reverberated throughout rural America: Crop insurance is a top Farm Bill priority.

Support has been widespread, from the Texas farmer who explained, “Crop insurance is indispensable,” to the Illinois grower who left a lasting impression by saying, “Crop insurance is working; don’t screw it up.”

H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, took these recommendations to heart and maintained a strong crop insurance system.  We applaud the Committee’s continued support of crop insurance, and we look forward to working with you both to get a Farm Bill with a strong crop insurance title across the finish line this year.

Unfortunately, some farm policy critics are targeting crop insurance for harmful cuts and changes.  Legislative proposals to limit farmer participation and make private-sector delivery less viable would have devastating effects as rural America deals with a depressed economy and farmers cope with the aftermath of weather disasters.

As you continue to work to oppose these harmful crop insurance proposals on the House floor, rest assured that America’s crop insurers and agents will be there to assist in any way needed.

Sincerely,

American Association of Crop Insurers
Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau
Crop Insurance Professionals Association
Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America
National Association of Professional Insurance Agents
National Crop Insurance Services

Republicans Tout Crop Insurance During D.C. Forum

Before Congress’ spring recess, several Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee participated in a Farm Bill discussion hosted by the Washington Examiner.

And one thing became very clear during the conversation: Members are united in keeping crop insurance strong during the upcoming debate.

This support is not surprising.  Crop insurance is delivered by the private sector, which helps maximize efficiency, and farmers pay for protection so taxpayers aren’t left holding the entire bag after disaster strikes.

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.

Forum participants said that efforts to weaken the crop insurance system, like using a means test to exclude some farms from protection, will only make crop insurance more expensive for remaining farmers.

“The backbone of the safety net is crop insurance. And it is a risk management tool. We don’t, we should not, means-test risk management,” said Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas. “Doing things to…force premiums higher and higher make no sense whatsoever.”

Rep. Ted Yoho, a Committee member from Florida, agreed, noting that instead of weakening the system Congress should look to provide even more protection to more crops.

Weakening crop insurance “would create more uncertainty, especially at a time when our farm income is at a 12-year low,” he said.

Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler echoed Yoho’s support during the panel discussion and called preserving crop insurance her “number one priority” during the Farm Bill.

“Because it is a very, very important risk management tool for farms and it’s also important for creditors,” she said.

Hartzler, who owns and operates a farm, explained to the audience that farming is capital intensive and that farmers must borrow money each year to plant – sums that can total more than most Americans borrow to buy a home.

Insurance gives banks confidence to extend those loans, she said, because it helps farmers manage their business’ unique risks and avoid bankruptcy after floods and droughts.

Congressman Rodney Davis said keeping crop insurance is also about being fiscally responsible while providing some certainty for the Illinois farmers he represents.

“The old way we used to do things with disaster declarations, was not budgeted,” he said, using the 2012 drought as an example of how the new system works.

Damage predictions were close to $40 billion during that drought, he noted, but aid delivered to farmers was closer to $17 billion because of the public-private partnership and because farmers help fund the system by paying premiums and shouldering losses through deductibles.

“We have to have a crop insurance program,” Davis concluded.  “It’s saving money for American taxpayers.”

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.

Farm Bureau Compares Crop Insurance to Ad Hoc Disaster

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

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

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

Here’s an excerpt from that piece:

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarships, Training Build Strong Communities

Mar’Kayla Bethea had to balance work with studies when she was an undergraduate student at Alabama A&M University.

Working at night and going to class during the day wasn’t easy. But she had no choice because she was paying for her education on her own.

That changed when National Crop Insurance Services awarded her with a scholarship.

“It allowed me to complete my undergraduate degree and I am now onto bigger and better things,” she said.

Today, she’s studying geographical information systems in graduate school at AAMU.

“This money was greatly appreciated,” she said.

NCIS has proudly provided scholarships to 18 students at 1890 Land Grant universities to help them complete their education since 2001. The universities have historically served African-American students.

It’s part of NCIS’ mission of helping under-served communities in rural America with access to top risk management and marketing training and education to develop the agriculture workforce.

Bethea’s story, and the stories of others who have benefited from scholarship program, are featured in the latest edition of Crop Insurance Today magazine.  Crop Insurance Today featured the risk management and marketing training offered through its partnership with 1890 Land Grant universities with a cover story last summer.

The scholarships are important to students who struggle with financial difficulties, said Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, Associate Professor of Agricultural Economics at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, in the article.

“Sometimes, this struggle leads them to obtain a full or part-time job off campus and those jobs usually (due to lack of study time) cause their academic performance to fall,” he said

Dr. Albert E. Essel, Dean, Research Director & 1890 Administrator for the College of Agriculture at Lincoln University thanked NCIS for its continued support of students who will become the next generation of agricultural workers.

Essel is also involved in the community risk management and marketing training programs NCIS funds across the nation.

He spoke to a group in South Carolina last summer about marketing.

Farmers Tony and Belinda Jones of Morning Glory Homestead on Saint Helena Island, S.C., were among the participants. They said the NCIS training was very beneficial.

“If we did not attend the workshops and conferences like this we would have to research that on our own and might overlook it or skip it or not think it was important. But when you hear it from professionals who have a lot of knowledge in that field, it really hits home,” Belinda Jones said.

You can read more about the scholarship program in the Crop Insurance Today magazine and watch a video about the community training program at CropInsuranceInAmerica.org.

Crop Insurers Release Last Video in Three-Part Series

National Crop Insurance Services today released the third installment in the “Risk Management Minute” series. This final video is focused on the importance of maintaining a strong public-private partnership.

“Now, assistance arrives in weeks, not years, because the private sector is involved,” explained the video, which noted that there are 20,000 agents, adjusters and staff to help rural America pick up the pieces following droughts, floods and freezes.

“And insurers spend millions on training and new technology to constantly improve efficiency,” it continued. “It’s a system that saves farmers time and taxpayers money.”

Despite crop insurance’s benefits and popularity among farmers, some farm policy critics are proposing drastic cuts that would make crop insurance unaffordable and unavailable for many farmers. And if such proposals were adopted, it would be difficult for the private sector to remain in business.

“Such short-sightedness would only weaken farmers’ primary tool for managing risk and put more burden on America’s taxpayers,” the video concluded.

Other videos – about the cost-sharing and risk-pooling attributes of crop insurance – can be viewed at CropInsuranceInAmerica and on NCIS’ social media channels.

New Video Explains Importance of Widespread Crop Insurance Participation

As the Farm Bill debate heats up, some farm policy opponents are lobbying to exclude people from crop insurance, which would harm farmers and taxpayers alike. That’s according to a new video released today by National Crop Insurance Services – the second video in its “Risk Management Minute” series.

Legislative proposals to apply an income means test to crop insurance participation could remove many farmers who have large farms, grow high-valued crops or work off-farm jobs.

“Doing so would only increase insurance costs for smaller farmers,” the video explains. “It’s kind of like preventing the safest drivers from getting auto insurance. The result would be an expensive wreck for farmers and taxpayers.”

The idea of shared risk – where premiums rise and fall with participation levels – is not unique to agriculture.

“Crop insurance is like other kinds of insurance,” according to the video. “The more people it covers, the more people there are to shoulder risk. And the more people there are to shoulder risk, the cheaper coverage is for everyone.”

Things get riskier and more expensive when participants are removed – especially insureds who carry less risk like the farms that are being targeted by farm critics.

“Congress made crop insurance a cornerstone of U.S. farm policy for a reason. It works. It’s efficient. It saves money. And it’s popular,” the video concludes. “No wonder so many farmers are saying ‘do no harm’ to crop insurance in the Farm Bill.”

Chairman Conaway Vows to Defend Successful Crop Insurance System

The House Agriculture Committee is diligently working on a new Farm Bill, which Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) hopes will receive a vote in the House of Representatives before the end of March.

Conaway, who addressed the crop insurance industry’s annual convention yesterday, said that would leave plenty of time to work out differences with the Senate version of the bill and ensure new legislation is finalized before the Farm Bill expires at the end of September.

“We will have difficult decisions to make,” he said, noting that there is “no reason to put it off just because [the debate] will be hard.”

Conaway said the bill leaving his committee will include a strong crop insurance component, and he will work to fight off attempts to weaken crop insurance.

“Our mantra is ‘don’t screw up crop insurance,’” he explained.

Conaway’s support was music to the ears of crop insurers, who believe their track record under the current Farm Bill is noteworthy.  Tom Zacharias, president of National Crop Insurance Services, outlined these successes during his opening remarks at the meeting.

“Farmers have spent nearly $15 billion in premiums since 2014,” Zacharias said.  “They’ve also shouldered more than $30 billion in deductibles.”

Because farmers help pay into the system, taxpayers aren’t left footing the whole bill after a disaster strikes.  That helps explain why crop insurance costs are below budget.

Congressional Budget Office projections for crop insurance are down nearly $10 billion since the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted.

Zacharias said the industry has also invested heavily in improving efficiency and stamping out waste under the current Farm Bill.

Former RMA Administrator Opines on Crop Insurance Critics

Kenneth Ackerman, a former Administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency, recently published an article entitled Top Priority for the 2018 Farm Bill: Protect Federal Crop Insurance.

We thought the piece summed up the current political debate surrounding crop insurance well, and wanted to share it more broadly.  Ackerman, who currently works at OFW Law, embodied the term “public-private partnership” when he worked for the government, and, as you can tell, is still a champion of a strong crop insurance system.

Crop insurance critics have a blind spot, seen in the recent CBO report…issued December 2017. At several points, CBO asks whether the cost to taxpayers for the current FCIC program is justified compared with the alternative, that is, simply protecting farmers against unusual disasters by providing what it calls “supplemental assistance,” or what used to be less-delicately labelled “ad hoc disaster bailouts.” CBO ultimately ducks the question. “It is not possible to know,” the report says, “nor are data available,” it argues, and “it is not possible to compare” the two. Here, they are wrong. Data does exist to compare the two approaches. All that’s required to access it is a memory.

Young farmers today probably don’t remember what it was like to be dependent for survival after a natural disaster almost entirely on politicians in Congress working feverishly to produce emergency one-time-only ad hoc rescue packages. These ad hoc bills have largely gone extinct since around 2011 as FCIC crop insurance has replaced them. This accomplishment is no small thing. Even the recent House-passed special emergency bill for 2017’s devastating Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, which does provide aid for certain crop losses, links that aid directly to crop insurance participation.

But before 1994, FCIC crop insurance was a tiny program, with participation barely a fourth of modern levels and total guarantees barely a tenth. As a result, every farm disaster required an emergency ad hoc disaster bill. During the decade before 1994, these ad hoc disaster bills averaged about a billion dollars per year, peaking at $4 billion each following the monumental 1988 drought and 1993 flood. These disaster bills, in turn, discouraged farmers from buying coverage.

This was the system that modern crop insurance was designed to replace. The disaster bills at the time were necessary lifelines in the absence of other support, but they were also a nightmare: for farmers, for taxpayers, and for USDA staff trying to administer it. Beyond the sheer uncertainty, a parade of reports from GAO, the Washington Post and other newspapers, and Congressional oversight committees disclosed legions of mis-payments and program abuses, not the fault of farmers or agency staff but simply the fact that USDA was required to implement these bulky, multibillion-dollar programs with little notice and inadequate infrastructure, the result of being, in fact, ad hoc.

FCIC crop insurance, unlike disaster aid, is a business model that rewards farmers for being good managers and good businessmen. Claims are paid reliably in 30 days after being filed, based on stable, pre-set contracts. Farmers purchase their coverage, paying good money from their own pockets, yes at subsidized rates, but still large enough to force them to make serious choices about risk. Producers who keep good production records enjoy better guarantees, and those who incorporate crop insurance into business plans linked with credit, banking, precision agriculture, and related risk-management tools like forward contracting and futures and options, do even better. For farmers who pre-contract their crops to processors, FCIC policies are often designed to incorporate those contacts seamlessly with their coverages. No wonder that private lenders today routinely require crop insurance as a condition of extending credit, as do other rural businesses.

The “reforms” that claim to “fix” crop insurance, be it through means testing, eliminating coverages like the Harvest Price Option, or similar steps, all work against the program’s basic strength, its business basis reflected in established systems for underwriting and rating.

President Trump Wants an ‘On-Time’ Farm Bill with Crop Insurance

It’s been more than 25 years since a sitting U.S. President addressed the American Farm Bureau Federation.  But President Donald Trump made up for lost time with a rousing speech yesterday to the Farm Bureau convention in Nashville.

From tax and trade to immigration and infrastructure improvements, he touched on a myriad of important issues during a 35-minute speech.  Yet, it was his comments about farm policy and crop insurance that proved to be one of the afternoon’s biggest applause lines.

“I’m looking forward to working with Congress to pass the Farm Bill on time so that it delivers for all of you,” President Trump told the group of nearly 5,000. “And I support a bill that includes crop insurance.”

The President singled out Senator Roberts, a long-time champion for farm policy and for crop insurance, and praised his relentless efforts on behalf of agriculture.

“We are working hard on the Farm Bill, and I think it’s going to go well,” he noted.

President Trump’s support of a strong farm policy isn’t surprising, considering his opinion of America’s farm and ranch families.  The President opened his remarks with these observations:

We’ve been working every day to deliver for America’s farmers just as they work every single day to deliver for us.

 We know that our nation was founded by farmers.  Our independence was won by farmers.  Our continent was tamed by farmers, so true.  Our armies have been fed by farmers and made of farmers.  And, throughout our history, farmers have always, always, always led the way….

 The men and women in this room come from different backgrounds and from all across our land, but each of you carries the same title that’s been proudly borne by patriots and pioneers, inventers and entrepreneurs.  The title of, very proudly, American farmer.  Thank you very much.

He also explained, “Our farmers deserve a government that serves their interest and empowers them to do the hard work that they love to do so much.”

Assuming Congress agrees, rural America should expect a good Farm Bill sooner rather than later.

And that would provide lawmakers and President Trump the opportunity to take a victory lap next year.  He promised the group that he would be returning to help the Farm Bureau ring in their centennial convention next January.

Most Farmers Get a Bill, Not a Check, with Crop Insurance

We all carry insurance on something: Our homes, our cars, maybe even a special vacation or a treasured antique.

And, we all get bills in the mail to pay premiums on those insurance policies. When disaster strikes, and we have to use the policies we’ve paid for, we must first absorb part of the loss as a deductible before aid is received.

Farmers are no different, despite what farm policy critics might have you believe.

As with any line of insurance, farmers receive crop insurance payments only when there are verified losses and only after shouldering a chunk of those losses themselves through deductibles.

More often than not, farmers pay into the crop insurance system and don’t get indemnities at all. That’s why it’s often said with crop insurance, farmers get a bill not a check.

An examination of recent USDA figures shows farmers purchased 2,364,338 policies between 2015 and 2016. Of those, there were 563,506 claims, meaning 1,800,832 policies were not triggered.

In fact, if we look further, we find that farmers spent $7.2 billion out of their own pockets for insurance protection in 2015 and 2016. They also shouldered $13.6 billion in losses as part of deductibles. Indemnities totaled $10.2 billion, meaning farmers collectively put much more into the system than they got out.

This trend appears to have continued in 2017, too.

In other words, a bill, not a check.  Exactly like insurance is supposed to work.

But farmers are not complaining about helping fund their own farm policy. Crop insurance is not about making money. It’s about managing risk and paying into a safety net that kicks in when the worst happens so farmers can recover and continue to provide safe and affordable food for U.S. customers.

Farmers are happy to pay that bill.

‘Don’t Mess with Crop Insurance’

“Don’t mess with crop insurance.”

The phrase has become a battle cry among farmers in the Midwest, especially as legislators headed out for listening sessions and town halls ahead of the next farm bill.

And so far, legislators are hearing the message.

That’s the opening of a recent Farm Futures article about crop insurance.

The piece points out that crop insurance has become the most popular safety net for farmers because it replaces the costly emergency disaster relief bills of the past. Back then, when a storm destroyed crops, farmers had to ask Congress for help. The system was expensive for taxpayers and inefficient for farmers because of slow government payments.

Today’s modern crop insurance – where farmers design their own policies, pay premiums, shoulder deductibles and only receive indemnities after losses are verified by trained adjusters – is easier to manage and more accountable. And, since farmers are paying into it, taxpayers aren’t left shouldering all of the cost when disaster strikes.

It’s no wonder, as the article notes, that 83 percent of farmers in a recent survey said crop insurance was a very important part of their risk management plans.

Unfortunately, 75 percent also said they were worried that the next farm bill won’t provide an adequate safety net, showing the angst in farm country over low commodity prices and increasing weather unpredictability.

Amazingly, some lawmakers are looking to weaken crop insurance and leave farmers even more vulnerable.  Art Barnaby of Kansas State University detailed why that would be such a mistake in a follow-up Farm Futures article.

Among the consequences, he found, of making crop insurance less affordable and less available:

  • Most farmers, including relatively small grain growers, would be affected if the Harvest Price Option were eliminated – a popular product similar to “replacement value” in other lines of insurance.
  • Proposed caps on premium assistance would be hit by numerous farms across the country, including specialty crop farms as small as 200 acres in some California counties.
  • Forcing farmers to pay more for insurance could affect coverage levels and weaken the system – an idea backed up by the Farm Futures survey, which found that 84 percent of farmers said they couldn’t afford adequate coverage without federal assistance.

Farm Futures also looked back at crop insurance data since the late ‘80s and found a system that is in balance and is providing high levels of protection.

“Since 1988, crop insurance policies have covered $15 trillion to guard against losses,” the publication noted.  “During the same period, total premiums paid were $136 billion and total indemnities paid to farmers came to $116 billion.”

In other words, crop insurance is working as designed and the consequences of weakening it could be dire.

“Don’t mess with crop insurance.”

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.

Attacks on Revenue Insurance Harm America’s Farmers

Farm families across America are struggling.  Crop prices are down.  Farm incomes have fallen drastically in the past several years and weather disasters have hit farms in most parts of the country.  And the pain is trickling down to small businesses and communities throughout rural America.  Yet, some lawmakers are pushing proposals that will make it nearly impossible for farmers to rebound.

Senators Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Jean Shaheen (D-NH) and Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) recently introduced bills to eliminate premium support for the harvest price protection component of the Revenue Protection (RP) crop insurance policy.  Revenue Protection protects against a loss of revenue caused by low prices or low yields or a combination of both.  Revenue Protection has become a valuable risk management tool for farmers across the United States and accounts for more than 75 percent of the Federal crop insurance policies sold today.

One of the key components of the revenue policy is the utilization of the fall harvest price, which allows a farmer to receive the greater of the fall harvest price or the projected harvest price to insure against revenue declines. The loss due to an increase in the harvest price occurs when a farmer suffers a yield loss.  Those lost bushels are worth more when the harvest price increases and therefore the loss of revenue is greater because the insured could not sell the bushels lost at the higher price. The farmer automatically has harvest price protection when buying an RP policy, but can choose to exclude it by selecting the Harvest Price Exclusion (HPE).  If the farmer opts to do so, he or she will pay a lower premium rate.

“This legislation specifically targets crop insurance policies that farmers pay more for out of their own pockets to provide some revenue stability amid price declines and low yields,” said Tom Zacharias, president of National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS).  “For example, corn farmers in the Midwest can pay more than 40 percent more in premiums for RP, depending on coverage level, than if they choose to exclude the harvest price protection. And because this is still an insurance policy, farmers face upwards of a 30 percent deductible before an indemnity is even paid.”

He continued: “Amazingly, supporters of this anti-farmer proposal tout taxpayer benefits as the justification for weakening the farm policies that are so important today. This is disingenuous considering farmers help pay for their own insurance protection and crop insurance represents less than one-third of one percent of federal spending.  It is also worth noting that crop insurance is operating below budget projections.”

Zacharias also noted that, despite critics’ accusations, revenue polices are not paying out frequently.  In its current form, RP has only been available since 2011.  However, according to an NCIS analysis of soybean and corn price movements, had RP been in effect since 1990, the price component would only have triggered in 11 out of 28 years for soybean farmers and even less for corn farmers – only eight out of the last 28 years.

NCIS analysis also shows a drastic increase in insurance costs for farmers if this proposal is enacted. A corn farmer in Illinois who selects the highest level of coverage for an RP policy – 85 percent – would see premiums climb by almost 30 percent.  Meanwhile, premiums at the 75 percent coverage level would increase by a staggering 98 percent.

Such increases in premium would likely result in dramatic declines in overall crop insurance participation.  Farmers would lose an essential risk management tool and be more inclined to turn to Congress to pass expensive, taxpayer-funded disaster packages when revenues plummet.

Farmers all across America have repeatedly asked Congress to protect crop insurance – to keep it available and affordable for all farmers.  Unfortunately, this proposal would do exactly the opposite, leaving many without the means to weather these tough economic times.

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.

University Researchers: Limiting Crop Insurance Cuts Deep

Crop insurance has been hailed by lawmakers and farmers alike as an essential risk management tool during recent House and Senate Agriculture Committee hearings. Despite the praise, there are still critics who hope to weaken farmers’ protection against natural disaster and wild swings in the market.

Farm policy opponents are specifically aiming to cap the discounts farmers receive on insurance premiums, eliminate a key revenue insurance product pegged to commodity prices, and exclude some growers from the system altogether based on their income.

Such proposals are meant to target America’s biggest farms, but recent work out of the University of Illinois and Kansas State University shows that the effects would be far wider, hitting many family farms, too.

To get a better idea of the impact of a proposal to limit premium discounts, Dr. Gary Schnitkey of the University of Illinois looked at the heart of corn belt in McLean County, Illinois. The area has prime growing conditions with deep and fertile soils.

There, he found, farmers with insurance coverage on 85 percent of their crops, the highest amount offered, would hit the proposed $40,000 premium discount limit after 2,944 acres – a large farm, but by no means a giant operation.

Meanwhile Illinois counties where land isn’t as fertile, like Saline County, would hit the cap at the same coverage level on just 884 acres – a mid-sized farm similar to most family farming operations. This cap would be hit even sooner by growers considered riskier because of past losses or bad yields.

It’s not just Illinois either. Drs. Art Barnaby and Mykel Taylor from Kansas State found similar results in other Midwest states. For example, nearly 15 percent of Kansas farms would hit the cap, they noted.

The pain grows exponentially, Barnaby and Taylor explained, if farm policy critics are successful in eliminating harvest price tools available for revenue coverage. These tools enable a grower to insure a crop at its harvest price rather than its price at the time planting in order to take advantage of forward contracting opportunities.

Eliminating it, the researchers found, would “reduce crop insurance protection for nearly 95% of Iowa’s crop farmers…[and] about 80% to 90% of the crop acres in many other states, including Kansas.”

Another anti-agriculture proposal to exclude farmers with incomes over $250,000 from crop insurance benefits would also hit ag country, and it may not just hit large farms.

“Such a policy would likely impact farms that had high levels of off-farm income from a spouse and or other business activities,” according to Barnaby and Taylor. Furthermore, because most farmers’ incomes are tied to crop prices, some growers could be ineligible in some years and eligible in others, creating a compliance nightmare for the USDA and farmers alike.

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.

Misleading Crop Insurance Attacks Hurt America’s Farmers

Agriculture’s opponents use terms like “guaranteed profits” to disparage the crop insurers that protect America’s food and fiber supply, help farmers pick up the pieces after disasters, and shield taxpayers from footing the whole bill through unbudgeted ad hoc disaster packages.

These criticisms unfairly confuse basic business concepts like gross returns and net income. The National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) asked economists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University to study this issue in depth, and noted:

“What we discovered is that the returns private crop insurance companies receive are much smaller than opponents claim, and they are well within the standards set by [the USDA].”

It’s easy to see how this conclusion was reached once you compare the expected versus actual returns under the current Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA) – the business agreement between the government and crop insurers.

The 2011 SRA set a target gross return of 14.5%. This measure of revenue does not include business expenses or reflect profit. But the target has not been met, according to the Government Accountability Office, which calculated returns of 13.7% from 2011-2016.

After subtracting expenses like technology and compliance costs for government regulations, the net income realized by insurers is even lower, as the chart below from the NCGA study shows.

Year Net Income
2011 11.3%
2012 -20.2%
2013 -0.7%
2014 3.0%
2015 13.9
Average 1.5%

*2016 data not yet available

In other words, there are no guaranteed profits in crop insurance. In fact, crop insurers had underwriting losses in 2012, 2002, 1993, 1988, 1984 and 1983 – a far cry from other lines of insurance, which are historically more profitable than crop insurance.

As a result, the crop insurance industry has witnessed consolidation and the exit of major agribusinesses since the implementation of the 2011 SRA. If farm policy critics are successful in their efforts to reduce returns by another 33%, other providers will follow suit, and farmers could be left without the tools necessary to manage falling crop prices and extreme weather events.

Then, the burden of providing billions in disaster assistance will again fall squarely to U.S. taxpayers.

GAO Forgets Its Own Lesson in Proposing Crop Insurance Cuts

In the wake of weather disasters in 1983, 1984 and 1988, U.S. agriculture was struggling, and an unparalleled farm debt crisis was only compounding the problem.

Back then, the federal government responded differently to agricultural crises. There was no overall strategy to deal with recurring farming disasters, and responses were generally reactive and after-the-fact.

So, in 1989, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (whose name has since changed from the General Accounting Office) published a report that examined the role of USDA’s three main disaster programs: Ad hoc direct payments, disaster emergency loans, and crop insurance.

GAO compared the effectiveness of these three programs, using eight different criteria that weighed the ability of the programs to deliver at the lowest possible cost, provide a disincentive to risky operations and pay farmers for actual losses, among other points.

The report concluded that “crop insurance is a more equitable and efficient way to provide disaster assistance,” than both taxpayer-funded disaster payments and emergency loans.

GAO recommended strengthening crop insurance to ultimately serve as the primary program for providing farm disaster assistance. And in 1994, President Clinton signed the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act, which restructured crop insurance to increase farmer participation, increase the private sector’s role, and enhance provisions of the crop insurance program for farmers.

The GAO’s report and the 1994 Act set the stage for the affordable and widely available crop insurance system we have today, with modern products like revenue coverage that help farmers plan for not only weather-related disasters but the massive price fluctuations in the global market.

And, instead of ad hoc disaster relief bills, farmers now help cost-share their own farm policy, paying $50 billion out of their own pockets in the last 17 years for insurance coverage. Farmers also absorb the first 25 percent, on average, of any loss before their coverage kicks in.

The system is also much more efficient and accountable than direct government payments because private insurance companies sell policies and pay indemnities only after verifiable losses.

Fast forward 28 years and it seems the GAO has forgotten its own lesson. The GAO, in a July report, recommended effectively dismantling the same crop insurance system that has become a cornerstone of America’s modern-day farm policy. Specifically, GAO proposes changes that would weaken the very private-sector delivery system that provides aid efficiently and reduces taxpayers’ risk exposure – a plan that would ultimately lead to more government dependence.

The recent GAO report, in essence, advocates a return to a prior era, back when farmers, lawmakers and taxpayers were equally frustrated with the way rural America received needed support.

Luckily, most lawmakers aren’t giving the recent GAO report the same warm reception its counterpart received decades ago.  It’s already been criticized by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KS), who said, “Now is not the time for additional cuts to a program that producers rely on.”

He’s exactly right.  A financially stable agricultural sector is fundamental to the well-being of our economy and society, and crop insurance is fundamental to agriculture’s success.

ICYMI: Insurance Vital for Farmers

By: Luke Sandrock
Published in the Herald & Review
August 25, 2017

Even the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong. No one knows this more than a farmer. They can plan out the entire year for how they will harvest a crop, but a single storm or a drop in the market can change everything. It can leave a farmer in financial ruin, and in the worst of cases, it can leave them without the ability to start again the following year.

This is why most farmers purchase crop insurance. It is the one part of the plan that holds together in a crisis. It is a tool that farmers rely upon when things go awry.

This hasn’t always been the case. When crop insurance got its start in the 1930s, it was a poorly run government program and rarely used. The premiums were too high and the coverage area was too limited, which resulted in low participation. Farmers mainly relied on costly ad hoc disaster assistance when natural disasters wiped out their crops, but that required Congress to not only act to authorize this assistance, but to act quickly. It was a clumsy system that didn’t provide any peace of mind to farmers or their bankers, and it was a costly way to operate since Congress was never budgeting for this disaster assistance.

This led lawmakers to rethink the mechanics of the program. In 1980, Congress passed the Federal Crop Insurance Act, which created the successful public-private partnership that remains today where risk is shared among farmers, the Federal government, and private insurance providers.

Premiums are more affordable for farmers through a government discount. Insurance products have expanded to include more crops across the country. Both of these factors have increased participation and broadened the risk pool, which makes the program more actuarially sound. Private companies are servicing the policies and making sure any claims are processed in an efficient and timely manner.

Another part of this success story is that Congress no longer has to worry about authorizing unbudgeted disaster assistance. Further, the current cost of crop insurance is under budget.

With Congress gearing up to write a new farm bill, a central concern for farmers all across the country is that lawmakers will fail to recognize this success story and will create new policy that undermines a farmer’s ability to manage risk.

The farm economy is struggling with net farm income half of what it was four years ago. Planning for the future is challenging enough given these circumstances, let’s not make it harder by eliminating a farmer’s ultimate backup plan when everything else fails.

Luke Sandrock is a junior partner and crop insurance agent at The Cornerstone Agency, Inc. in northern Illinois.

Crop Insurers Respond to GAO Calls for Additional Budget Cuts

The farm economy is struggling, with depressed prices and falling farm incomes reminiscent of the farm crisis in the 1980s. Back then, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the best way to help farmers through tough times and noted, “crop insurance is a more equitable and efficient way to provide disaster assistance” than both taxpayer funded disaster payments and emergency loans.

GAO then recommended strengthening the country’s crop insurance program, which Congress did. Now, crop insurance is a cornerstone of America’s farm policy, farmers call it their top Farm Bill priority, and taxpayers are saving money because farmers and private-sector crop insurers help fund farm policy.

Given crop insurance’s success and popularity, it is disheartening that GAO recently recommended weakening farmers’ primary risk management tool. It’s even more troubling that GAO would gloss over important facts about the returns crop insurance providers receive for delivering America’s farm safety net. For example:

  • Insurance providers are not even achieving the returns targeted in the Standard Reinsurance Agreement with the USDA – GAO buried deep within its report the fact that actual returns have been 5 percentage points lower than USDA’s target from 2011-2015.
  • GAO’s data do not take insurers’ full business expenses into account – essentially, they are confusing gross and net returns.
  • 2017 study by economists from the University of Illinois and Cornell University noted that net returns for crop insurance providers were just 1.5% from 2011-2015.

Farmers all across the country are depending on crop insurance to help them weather the current economic crisis. And private-sector crop insurers are delivering that assistance in an efficient manner that has come in billions under budget.

Clearly the system is working and does not need to be weakened when it is needed most. Luckily, most lawmakers recognize crop insurance’s value and are dedicated to keeping it affordable, widely available, and economically viable in the next Farm Bill.