CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Tim Totheroh, Wellington, Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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