Participants at the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry’s second Farm Bill field hearing stressed that with tough times hitting farm country in the form of catastrophic weather events and falling prices, farmers need a strong farm safety net more than ever.
The field hearing was held at Michigan State University, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow’s (D-MI) alma mater and where the last Farm Bill was signed into law.
“Agriculture is the riskiest business there is. Nobody else has to depend on the weather report for their success, but farmers also have grit and determination and passion for what they do and for that we all should be very grateful,” said Stabenow.
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) discussed the widespread damage he saw firsthand in his home state following one of the largest prairie fires in history. He also noted the importance of a strong and efficient agriculture sector to feeding our growing world.
“Agriculture production will need to double in the future to meet the increased demand over the next couple decades,” Roberts said. “Accomplishing this task requires efficiency, not just on the farm or on the ranch, but most certainly in our United States government. … It takes the government providing an adequate safety net and then getting out of producers’ way.”
The first panel of the hearing included testimony from producers across Michigan, who also stressed the importance of crop insurance as a key component of this safety net.
Chris Alpers of Redpath Orchards discussed the importance of crop insurance to his apple crop and the apple industry as a whole.
“No crop insurance program will make a grower devastated by a natural disaster financially ‘whole’ but it will allow them to survive a devastating loss and continue to support the economic engine of rural America,” Alpers told the Committee.
Alpers noted that crop insurance enables producers to invest back into their own business, creating good jobs in their local communities. Modern apple plantings cost upwards of $40,000 an acre before a single apple is harvested several years later. This enormous startup cost unfortunately scares many talented young entrepreneurs and lending institutions away from investing in apple production.
“I am thankful many producers (and lenders) recognize crop insurance as an important risk management tool. Without the ability to purchase a solid insurance policy and limit my exposure I would not be able to justify investing my future into the apple business,” he testified.
Rick Gerstenberger of Gerstenberger Farms, Inc., and Chairman of the Board of Michigan Sugar Company, said crop insurance is an essential risk management tool for beet growers as well.
“With a higher investment in growing sugarbeets than most other commodities, agricultural lenders are evaluating their lending risk and basing their loan approvals on the availability of an adequate safety net, which most crop insurance coverage provides,” Gerstenberger told the Committee.
Andy Snider, whose family farm raises turkeys, hogs, corn and soybeans, called on Congress to ensure adequate funding for all risk management programs and tools.
“Programs like crop insurance, livestock gross margin insurance, and FSA guarantees, are essential to maintain a stable and secure food system. Overall, net farm income was down nearly 50 percent from 2013 to 2016, and if net farm income continues to fall, the risk management programs may be the only remaining safeguard,” Snider said.
A press conference followed the hearing, during which Chairman Roberts also addressed the issue of protecting crop insurance.
“We are not going to see dramatic cuts in crop insurance,” Roberts said. “We’re just not.”
That’s good for farmers around the country and in Roberts’ home state, where a recent blizzard destroyed much of the wheat crop.
For more information on the hearing, click here.