Farm policy used to focus on providing a safety net for traditional row crops. That was largely due to the Great Depression and its lingering effects.
But farm policy has changed to reflect a country with a diverse agricultural sector. The backbone today is crop insurance, and for good reason: Policies can be customized for all types of farming operations. Whether you’re a peach grower in South Carolina like me or a corn farmer in Iowa or a cherry grower in Michigan or a cotton farmer in Texas, crop insurance is designed to cover you when disasters strike. And the more farmers buying policies, the better we all are in the long run because that spreads the risk.
I recognized the value of crop insurance early in my career. In 1995, I was hired to manage the operation I now own, and one of my first decisions was to purchase crop insurance. When I bought the farm a few years later, I already had the production history to be eligible for crop insurance on my own and obtain financing.
There is a direct link between farm financing and being able to go into business, and any farm financing is going to require crop insurance. That’s why I am always alarmed by the attacks on crop insurance by people who have no frame of reference for what goes into starting a farming operation, putting a crop in the ground and surviving whatever calamity may hit. If anything ever happened to crop insurance that made the banking world question its stability, it would devastate agriculture in this country overnight.
I have experienced three complete freezes that would have put me out of business without insurance. It wouldn’t have been just a matter of not paying my bank loans; it would have been a matter of not paying anybody. My crop insurance policy allowed me to cover at least part of my fixed expenses. It made the difference between starting over with a new crop or starting over with a new career.
Crop insurance has become the risk management tool of choice for American farmers. It would be a disgrace if a few politicians in Washington succeeded in jeopardizing this essential safety net, crushing rural businesses all across the country, with nothing to show for it but political gain.
Chalmers Carr is President of the National Peach Council and lives in Ridge Spring, South Carolina.