ICYMI: Insure our food supply and our economy

The Desert Sun
February 14, 2016

If you have a car, you have auto insurance to protect against property and bodily harm. If you own a house, regardless of its size, you have insurance to guard against costly damage. Chances are good you have policies on your health and even your life, too.

These forms of insurance are common, and as such, people have a high degree of familiarity with them. However, few people realize that the food on their table remains affordable thanks, in part, to insurance protection. Or that America’s food security is improved by insurance because it helps U.S. farmers manage risk.

Crop insurance, which underpins the nation’s agricultural bounty, works like other kinds of insurance, and it is particularly important in a state like California that has such a diverse and thriving agricultural sector. In fact, for most fruit and vegetable growers it is the only safety net available.

This insurance is what helped many California farmers bounce back after the recent drought and plant another year, just as it does following freezes and other natural disasters.

The 2014 Farm Bill made big investments in making the system work better for specialty crop growers in states like California. For example, the new Whole Farm Revenue Protection policy enables a grower to insure his or her entire farm instead of having to buy individual policies for each and every fruit and vegetable planted. This new policy is not crop specific, and now crops like dates, spinach, melons, and other specialty crops may be insured if the producer has at least five years of history growing that commodity.

Thanks to these investments, Californians now have $8.7 billion worth of crops protected on more than 6.8 million acres – including almonds, grapes, pistachios, walnuts, rice, and tomatoes to name a few. It’s no wonder then that the crop insurance industry chose the state as the site of its annual convention.

This week, hundreds of agricultural and insurance industry leaders will be in Riverside County to discuss new developments in crop insurance protection and challenges agriculture will face in years to come. Chief among those challenges will be constant political attacks against farmers.

Despite crop insurance’s risk-sharing structure that minimizes taxpayer cost, there are critics who want to undermine it and are floating proposals to cap coverage and publicly shame farmers, which would disproportionately hit specialty crop growers. But like other USDA programs, crop insurance needs to be widely available to protect all farmers, big or small, no matter what they produce.

These attempts are particularly appalling in a region like the Coachella Valley, where agriculture is such an important economic driver and where the community does so much to aid the underprivileged through farm-to-table programs like Hidden Harvest.

Agriculture’s opponents can be rebuffed if all of agriculture will pull together to defend its way of life. Coordination and communication will be key to confronting our critics, and ideas for working together and delivering a unified message to lawmakers will be our top priority at the annual meeting this week.

About the author: Thomas P. Zacharias, Ph.D., is president of National Crop Insurance Services, the Kansas-based trade association hosting this week’s convention.