As the Farm Bill is being debated in Washington, one thing that I, as president of the Montana Grain Growers, am committed to emphasizing is the importance of crop insurance.
Put simply, crop insurance is cornerstone of our nation’s farm policy, with 90 percent of farmland today enrolled in the program. In Montana, that accounts for 19.8 million acres and $1.1 billion in insured liability on growing crops.
The numbers tell the story, but let me share another compelling one — my own.
I returned to my fourth-generation family farm in south central Montana in 2012 and my first wheat crop was harvested the following year. During that first growing season, we were in the middle of a significant drought — and ultimately went almost 24 months with little to no precipitation. Late rains helped a little, but for my winter wheat, much of the damage had already been done.
The crop was slow to emerge, slow to grow, and had several other issues that limited its potential. Then came the final devastating blow. In June, a powerful thunderstorm rolled through the area. By the time it was finished, three-quarters of my crop was pounded into the ground. What limited potential that the crop did have was erased in a matter of minutes.
For a fledging farm operation like mine, something like this would be impossible to come back from without some safety net in place. Because of crop insurance, I was able to farm again after that year, and continue, alongside my father and husband, to farm the land to this day.
No, crop insurance certainly didn’t make up for the crop I lost that first year, but it did keep me from having to tell the bank I could not pay back my operating loans, or that I could not make the payments on my new machinery loan. Having crop insurance kept me from failing before I even got started.
My story is not unique. Farmers across the nation must take out huge operating loans to keep their businesses afloat. This, combined with the unpredictability of Mother Nature, makes it having crop insurance crucial to the solvency of these operations.
A handful of farm policy critics in D.C, who have never stepped foot on a farm, are quick to call for cuts to crop insurance despite the fact it is more efficient and cost-effective than the alternative. I don’t think any of us would like to go back to the days before we had crop insurance, when natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly emergency disaster legislation, with taxpayers footing the bill.
Farmers and rural communities know the importance of the crop insurance firsthand. We know it needs to remain a viable program for farmers and we know we need to protect it from having bits and pieces dismantled through budget resolutions, appropriations, and Farm Bill negotiations.
It is incumbent on all of us to share this message with lawmakers in Washington to and urge them to “do no harm” to the crop insurance program.
Michelle Erickson-Jones is president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. She operates a grain and forage operation with her father, Bart, and husband, Travis, near Broadview.
This op-ed was published in the Billings Gazette.