The Farm Bill debate is heating up in Washington and that has me thinking back to 2015.
We received way too much rainfall in central Missouri that spring and my family’s farm in Boone County, like many across the state, suffered big losses. We were only able to plant 40 out of our normal 500 acres of soybeans. Statewide, more than a million acres of soybeans went unplanted.
Without crop insurance, an event like that would have financially broken our farm.
It would have been nearly impossible to stay in business for the following year because of overhead costs like equipment and land, not to mention the input costs required to raise a crop that were already applied.
That was a tough year for my dad, Nathan, and me. We farm 1,000 acres raising corn, soybeans and occasionally small grains. My dad also runs a cow-calf operation.
Crop insurance, which is part of the farm bill, helped us that year but it doesn’t cover all of the costs. Prevented-planting coverage, in the 2015 example, only covered 60 percent of our per-acre revenue, minus the premium we paid.
But it’s certainly better than going out of business. And that’s something I hope Congress considers in the 2018 farm bill.
I grew up on a farm. I studied agricultural systems management at the University of Missouri and worked as a field test engineer for three years after college. I enjoyed it and was able to travel all over the United States and across parts of South America.
But you can only travel like that for so long, and I love farming. So, when an opportunity opened up back home I gladly returned to the family farm.
It’s an honor to grow food for America and the world. But it’s also much riskier than a paycheck from an employer, like when I worked as an engineer. Crop insurance for me, as a young producer, is a critical risk management tool.
Row crops especially are very capital intensive. The equipment, machinery, buildings and structures on the farm and the land all have costs. Then you add in costs like seed, fertilizer, pest protection and fuel, and it equals a significant investment per acre every year.
All of those dollars invested each year are subject to risk that farmers cannot control based upon the weather and the markets.
Crop insurance is a way we can mitigate risk and hopefully be able to continue to farm the following season if we do have a weather disaster that prevents us from being solvent.
Crop insurance is not unlike other forms of insurance. Whether it’s your automobile or health insurance, you don’t intend to ever have a claim or use the policy, but it’s a safety net when something goes wrong. It’s there as risk protection, and it’s something that is necessary to be successful in today’s farming operations.
That’s why it has become a cornerstone of the American farm safety net. It’s a public-private partnership that protects the investments farmers make in each crop and it protects taxpayers from costly disaster-relief bills.
It means when weather strikes in central Missouri, the insurance companies help cover the losses, not Congress. That’s why it is so strange that some lawmakers are angling to make crop insurance more expensive and less available.
I hope Congress remembers in the next farm bill that crop insurance is not only necessary for rural America, but that ultimately it protects the consumer. Without it, we would not be able to provide a safe, reliable and affordable food supply for America and the rest of the world.
Brian Martin raises corn, soybeans, and small grains with his father, Nathan, in Boone County, Missouri.
This op-ed was published in The Kansas City Star.