Farmers across the nation spent the dog days of summer praying for more rain, or less rain, harvesting wheat, worrying about failed corn crops and wondering how far commodity prices will drop.
And in Washington, lawmakers spent the hot summer hammering out their differences in the Farm Bill – a critical piece of legislation the agriculture community hopes will pass before fall harvest time.
National Crop Insurance Services set out this summer to document the lives and voices of farmers across America in a new series that debuts today with stories from Kentucky and Indiana. You can watch the stories on NCIS’ new website, cropinsuranceinmystate.org, which also features a host of information about America’s top farm safety net program.
Jeff Coke is one of the farmers NCIS caught up with. He loves growing corn and soybeans on his farm in Owensboro, Kentucky. His love of the land might sound strange to the folks in the big cities.
“We have a tie to the dirt that other people don’t understand,” he said. “You know, I like the smell of fresh dirt. Most people think that’s crazy. I like the smell of fresh cut hay. I like the smell of silage. Manure doesn’t even upset me. That’s the smell, when I was a kid, you always smelled in the spring time.”
Despite his love and care for the land he farms, this year hasn’t been good to Coke. He’s lost a lot of his crop.
“We usually start drilling wheat about the 10th of October,” he said. “We only got to go about five days and then it started raining and it’s been wet ever since until we started planting corn and we’ve been wet off and on even through the corn planting season. I’ve already lost some corn three times.”
Crop insurance will help him recover at least some of what he lost in the corn. It will help him farm another season and deliver the quality food American’s expect at a price they can afford.
“It is a total protection plan for our food supply,” he said. “If you lose your farmers, you lose your food. It’s that simple.”
Across the state line in Boonville, Indiana, Mike Heuring is expecting a decent harvest. He hasn’t had the problems with the wet weather that Coke experienced.
While this harvest is looking up, it wasn’t too long ago that Heuring, who is also a crop insurance agent, faced a massive loss. The drought of 2012 remains the worst he can remember and likely the worst his family has experienced in at least three generations.
“It was so hot,” he said. “In addition to being dry it was very hot. And you could actually smell the corn cooking in the field on some of those afternoons.”
Without insurance, he says he would have had to sell land or equipment, or take out loans on property, to farm another year.
“I don’t know if it would have put me out of business, but it would have been 10 steps backwards,” he said. “It would have been really bad.”
He’s glad to see Congress is keeping crop insurance intact in the Farm Bill instead of limiting it, or making it more expensive, as some opponents of American agriculture have suggested.
“Why not have a safety net where the people that occasionally benefit from it are paying into it,” he said. “It’s not a handout.”
It’s also better than disaster legislation, which in the past has been mired in politics and late to arrive, he said.
“I think it’s much better than an ad hoc disaster type program,” he said. “By the time you would actually get that benefit it’s almost too late anyway. So yeah, I think crop insurance is the best system and obviously the majority of farmers agree based upon the participation rates.”