CROP INSURANCE IN ACTION: Trent Patterson, Lake County, Tennessee

For Trent Patterson, 2012 was a very dry year.

Drought parched much of Tennessee, where he farms about 4,500 acres planted to cotton, corn, soybeans and wheat. The drought forced farmers like Patterson to switch crops from the flagship cotton to soybeans, which requires less agricultural inputs. With crop insurance as part of most farmers’ backup plans, many of them were able to get by.

“The drought of 2012 caused hardship from planting to harvest,” said Patterson of Lake County in northwest Tennessee. “We planted, replanted, spot planted and in some fields abandoned the cotton crop and planted beans only to plant and replant those and get half a stand.”

Corn yields took the biggest hit during the year-long drought. “We were unable to fill our contracts,” he said.

Tennessee is a major producer of cattle and is a key grower of crops like cotton and soybeans. The farm sector alone is responsible for nearly $3 billion in farm gate receipts, according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. About half of the state’s land area, or some 11 million acres, is comprised of farms. The western portion where Patterson farms is prime land fed by the flood plains of the Mississippi River. This area is largely devoted to soybeans, wheat, corn, cotton and sorghum.

Crop insurance has been a much-needed lifeline for Patterson and other farmers like him. Crop insurance has allowed them to survive drought, floods and other disasters that form part of the natural landscape farmers must contend with on a yearly basis in much of the U.S.

For farmers in Texas, 2011 was the worst drought in a century. For farmers in Louisiana, the program was critical in 2005 when they endured the double-barreled disaster brought on by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. For farmers in Tennessee and in much of the Midwest, the drought of 2012 was the worst in 25 years. And while crop insurance only covers a percentage of the loss in most cases, the money provides the much-needed infusion to help farmers survive until the next season.

Said Patterson, “Without crop insurance as a risk management tool, a disaster as we have had in 2012 is not survivable to many farming operations.”

Each year is a “make or break situation” for most farms, he explained. For his part, he has filed the paperwork to receive insurance claims for cotton crops that had to be switched to beans. The insurance adjuster has visited his farmlands and reviewed his paperwork, which includes a history of his yield production.

Patterson says that crop insurance is a key component of the farm safety net and a major feature in ongoing Farm Bill discussions. If the country’s goal is to keep U.S. food and fiber industries viable, then the farm bill must include crop insurance to help American farmers manage their risks. These comments reflect the sentiment of many farmers and lawmakers from across the country who have strenuously argued that a viable crop insurance program is essential for the future of U.S. farming.

Patterson says that crop insurance is either a subsidy or an investment, but either way, it’s especially critical to a chancy, “risky business” like farming. He underscored the “wisdom” of protecting the American farmer and the industry.

“I don’t want to have to go hungry and naked because I didn’t help my neighbor with his garden if I was eating out of it,” he said. “(So) is it a subsidy or an investment?”