Hearing from the Heartland

The Farm Bill debate is officially underway—and crop insurance took center stage at the first Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing, held last week at Kansas State University.

Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a Kansas State University graduate, explained: “We start the journey to a successful and timely 2018 Farm Bill in the Heartland, because that is where it matters most…on our farms, ranches, businesses, and city and county halls across the countryside.”

Jackie McClaskey, the state’s Secretary of Agriculture, was among the first to testify, noting that farmers are entering a fourth consecutive year of an economic downturn.

“It is in times like these that risk management tools, including Title I commodity programs and federal crop insurance, need to kick in to provide the safety net they were designed to deliver,” McClaskey said.

Panelists included Kansas wheat, corn, sorghum, cotton and soybean farmers, many of whom praised crop insurance for its effectiveness and stressed the importance of keeping the program whole.

Amy France, testifying on behalf of the Kansas Farm Bureau, asked lawmakers to double down on what is working in the current safety net.

“Without question, the most important USDA program is federal crop insurance, and I’m not alone in that belief,” she explained. “Crop insurance offers risk protection to many agricultural commodities and when disaster strikes, the indemnity check is in our bank account much sooner than any other USDA program.”

Tom Lahey, vice president of the Kansas Cotton Association, also praised crop insurance as way to mitigate agricultural risk.

“Federal crop insurance provides an effective risk management tool to farmers and ranchers of all sizes when they are facing losses beyond their control, reduces taxpayer risk exposure, makes hedging possible to help mitigate market volatility and provides lenders with greater certainty that loans made to producers will be repaid,” he said.

Representatives from the Kansas Soybean Association and Kansas Sunflower Commission agreed and cited crop insurance as a top priority for their organizations.

Kenneth Wood, president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, also pointed to crop insurance as the most important component of the farm safety net.

Crop insurance, he testified, was a significant factor in his decision to rebuild last spring after an E4 tornado destroyed his home, vehicles, machinery and approximately 300 acres of crops.

“When a natural disaster looms on the horizon, whether it is a drought, flood, hail storm, or in my case, a tornado, we know that crop insurance will help keep us in business,” Wood said.

Corn farmer Kent Moore, testifying on behalf of the Kansas Corn Growers Association, warned that despite the widespread support for crop insurance, there will be attacks by special interest groups looking to harm agriculture.

“I wonder if anyone understands the need for a solid crop insurance program more than the Kansas farmer,” Moore asked. “Drought, hail, wind and floods can ravage farms and sometimes Kansas farmers can experience all of these disasters in the same year. Unlike car insurance, crop insurance protects us against systemic risk.”

He concluded, “Every year, we hope we don’t collect a crop insurance payment, but when we do have a loss, crop insurance provides critical support to farmers and the rural communities that serve agriculture.”

The Kansas field hearing is the first in a series. In the coming weeks, the Committee is expected to visit Michigan State University, the alma mater of the Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.).