Wheat farmers in the heartland are facing tough times. Prices have bottomed out, Mother Nature has been unrelenting and this year’s wheat harvest was well below average.
On our five-generation family farm in Sentinel, the story is no different. Our wheat acres were down just like nearly everybody else who grows the crop. And unfortunately, some economists are predicting things might get worse before they get better.
It’s in years like these that we can really appreciate the importance of the farm safety net, with federally supported crop insurance as its cornerstone. To be blunt, it would virtually be impossible to farm in western Oklahoma without crop insurance. And certainly impossible to secure the farm for future generations.
Crop insurance helps us manage risk and we are happy to pay into this safety net that kicks in when the worst happens. More often than not, farmers pay into the crop insurance system and don’t get anything back at all. And that is how we prefer it.
We are in the farming business and we take pride in our crops. We set out from the get-go to raise a crop the best we can. We want to get our money out of the marketplace, if we can. I tell my crop insurance agent, “I hope you don’t pay me a penny. I don’t want your money — I want it in the marketplace where it belongs.”
But in farming, there are no guarantees. And that is where crop insurance comes in. It won’t make up for a bad year, but it helps us to keep farming for another year.
It hasn’t always been this way. I have been farming for more than five decades and I remember quite well the days before we had an effective crop insurance program. For many years, natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly disaster bills. These bills were not only slow in arriving to the farm, but also fell flat on the laps of taxpayers.
With crop insurance, agents sell policies, insurance companies service them and the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program, making it affordable and widely available to all growers through aspects such as premium discounts.
For beginning farmers, having this protection is especially important. Many young farmers rely on banks for operating loans. And banks won’t make these loans without assurance that farmers would have a way to pay it back if Mother Nature strikes.
Farm policy critics, many of whom are paid anti-farm lobbyists, can be quick to criticize crop insurance. But ask anyone in farm country and they will tell you that putting limits on our most successful farm safety net tool is the last thing we can afford right now, especially given the current downturn.
I want to see my sons and grandsons continue our family tradition of farming. For this reason, and many others, I encourage you to join me in calling on our lawmakers in Washington to preserve and protect this important program as they continue to debate budgets and the upcoming farm bill. The future of farm country may very well depend on it.
Jimmie Musick, of Sentinel, is president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.
This op-ed was published in The Oklahoman.