Crop Insurance Takes Center Stage at Senate Farm Bill Hearing

Crop insurance industry leaders testified this week before the U.S. Senate, touting the benefits of the program to our nation’s farmers and ranchers.

But they were far from the only ones promoting crop insurance in what was the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry’s largest Farm Bill hearing to date.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), an architect of the modern crop insurance system, sang the program’s praises in his opening statement.

“When producers put seeds in the ground, they do not expect a hail storm to hit right as they are ready to harvest their crops,” said Roberts. “They would much rather reap the benefits of their hard work in the marketplace than receive an indemnity. The last Farm Bill made significant changes, and unlike previous policies, today’s commodity programs — like crop insurance — are triggered only when there is a loss.”

Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Committee, explained some of the improvements to crop insurance she’s championed and noted her continued support.

“I have fought to expand and strengthen crop insurance for all farmers, from expanding coverage to specialty crop growers, organic producers, and beginning farmers, to providing a whole-farm option for diversified farms,” she explained.

Their efforts were lauded by the witnesses who appeared during three panels to describe their priorities for the next Farm Bill.

Bruce Rohwer, National Corn Growers Association board member, told the Committee that crop insurance has been critical to helping farmers survive sustained low commodity prices, and should be maintained.

“Without crop insurance and commodity title payments, the financial wherewithal of [family] farms would likely face serious erosion in the current environment,” Rohwer said.

Soybean farmer Kevin Scott said the American Soybean Association also strongly supported crop insurance and called on lawmakers to curb any attempts to put caps on the program, pointing to recent research that demonstrates such caps would reduce participation and have a significant impact on family farms.

Rohwer agreed, explaining, “A shrunken risk pool in insurance is not good for anybody. That would make crop insurance less effective, which would … make access to credit more difficult.”

David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, likewise stressed the importance of keeping the crop insurance program intact, highlighting the program’s low improper payment rates, which is about half that of the government average.

“The federal crop insurance program has been and continues to be farmers’ most important risk management tool. A farmer might go many years paying premiums for a policy and rarely get an indemnity,” Schemm said. “And they would much rather get a return from the market than become eligible for an indemnity.”

During the final panel of the hearing, Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), and Mark Haney, president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau Federation, weighed in and explained the importance of maintaining a strong safety net in today’s difficult economic climate.

“We continue to witness pressure in the countryside as commodity prices remain low and farmers and ranchers struggle to adjust,” Johnson said. “Given this scenario, NFU believes that the Farm Bill safety net should provide meaningful assistance in two fundamental circumstances: when disaster strikes and when prices are low and remain below the cost of production for extended periods of time. These two scenarios have separate solutions, the first is crop insurance and the second is commodity programs.”

To view this hearing, “Commodities, Credit, and Crop Insurance: Perspectives on Risk Management Tools and Trends for the 2018 Farm Bill,” click here.