Many farmers in the United States have been wedded to the soil for several generations. Jon Whatley is no different.
He is a fourth-generation farmer in San Patricio County, outside Odem, Texas, and has been tilling the land since 1993. Whatley plants mainly cotton, corn and sorghum in the coastal bend of Texas on more than 5,000 acres and about 100 head of cows.
Odem is a town founded slightly more than 100 years ago at the junction of two railroads and was named it after the county sheriff, David Odem. The area used to grow vegetables, but the current top crops of cotton, corn and sorghum became dominant by the 1980s.
Whatley believes strongly that a coherent Farm Bill is essential for the American farming sector and that people sometimes do not understand that farmers are in a line of work where a lot of things can go wrong – from withering drought to hurricanes wrecking crops through floods and high wind.
“Farming is a very risky business with many aspects that are out of the control of producers,” he said. “A Farm Bill should help provide some stability for the producer and the consumer. I don’t believe a Farm Bill should create an absence of risk. A bill that helps bring a sense of safety for the producer and the agriculture community is vital for long-term health for ag and ag businesses. Food security and abundance is a result of sound farm policy,” Whatley explained.
One of the vital components of the Farm Bill is a crop insurance program where farmers purchase policies to protect them from catastrophic loss.
“It is necessary and is required by my lender,” said Whatley.
Since becoming a farmer in 1993, Whatley has relied on crop insurance for the bad times, filing in six different years.
That would include 2011 when Texas experienced the worst drought in a century hit Texas and continued into 2013. The prolonged drought caused extensive damage to Texas’ cotton crop, of which Texas is the biggest producer in the U.S.
Whatley feels that some Americans have “distorted the facts” on how farmers are supported and how they operate.
“We as producers have a very complicated business model to explain in short talking points. We need to find ways to easily explain our value to the general public. I believe Americans would support what ag does if they could understand the industry and the impact it has on the economy and their lives,” he said.
Whatley said it is necessary to look at what the farming community brings to the table when it comes to its contribution to American life. “The value of farming on American life can be measured in many ways,” he said. “We cannot all live in metropolitan areas.”
Farming in rural areas provides the backbone for the economy in those areas and is the foundation for local governments “such as police, roads and the education system to name a few,” Whatley explained.
There is also the big picture responsibility that American farmers have for feeding not only the country but in serving as a global granary of last resort if there are shortages elsewhere. Bottom line, the Farm Bill and provisions like crop insurance is a guarantor of the stability of food supplies and the rural economy in the United States.
“Without a policy that stabilizes farms and commodity markets, the volatility would be devastating to the consumer,” Whatley said, adding the absence of the bill would lend itself “to unsafe and unreliable food delivery.”