By Mark Gerdes

One of the beauties of life in our great democracy is that spirited debate about important public policies is not only expected, it’s encouraged. One of the intrinsic rules of these discussions, if they are to be productive and fair, is that the policy itself should be scrutinized from every angle without demonizing or castigating the various groups affected by these policies.

In other words, we should be able to discuss education policy without demonizing teachers or impugning the integrity of students. Likewise, we should be able to debate defense policy without bashing soldiers or peace activists. Unfortunately, when it comes to discussions about farm policy — in particular the decision by many farmers to purchase crop insurance — critics have chosen to throw farmers under the bus time and time again instead of debating the policies on their merits.

Last year, we had one of the worst droughts our nation has seen in decades. And while America’s farm families watched their crops shrivel in the fields, some critics said “farmers are praying for drought, not praying for rain.” Another critic said that farmers who purchased crop insurance last summer “were laughing all the way to the bank.” In short, they argued farmers make more money from collecting a crop insurance check than harvesting a crop, and in fact they would prefer to watch their crops wither or livestock die and collect a crop insurance check than to take the fruits of their labors to market.

As a farmer, I must point out that statements about the integrity and motivation of farmers and their decision to purchase crop insurance demonstrates both incredibly poor math skills as well as a complete lack of understanding about the core values and beliefs of America’s farmers.

Take, for example, the charge that farmers hope their crops will fail so that they can collect a crop insurance check. Critics are quick to point out that more than $17 billion will be paid out to farmers and ranchers who purchased crop insurance for their losses in 2012. The implication here is that the $17 billion is some sort of windfall being bestowed upon farmers by the federal government.

But the math tells a very different story. Insurance policies must first be purchased, and then policy holders must absorb the policy’s deductible after suffering a verifiable loss, before they can collect a single dime. In 2012, farmers paid $4.1 billion out of their own pockets to purchase crop insurance policies. Then, farmers shouldered $12.7 billion…

Mark Gerdes, a fourth-generation farmer, raises corn, soybeans and cattle on 2,800 acres in Aredale, Iowa. This op-ed appeared in the Ames Tribune on June 7, 2013.