Before Congress’ spring recess, several Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee participated in a Farm Bill discussion hosted by the Washington Examiner.
And one thing became very clear during the conversation: Members are united in keeping crop insurance strong during the upcoming debate.
This support is not surprising. Crop insurance is delivered by the private sector, which helps maximize efficiency, and farmers pay for protection so taxpayers aren’t left holding the entire bag after disaster strikes.
Today, it covers more than 130 different kinds of crops and protects a record 311 million acres of ranch and farmland – an area the size of California, Texas and New York combined.
Forum participants said that efforts to weaken the crop insurance system, like using a means test to exclude some farms from protection, will only make crop insurance more expensive for remaining farmers.
“The backbone of the safety net is crop insurance. And it is a risk management tool. We don’t, we should not, means-test risk management,” said Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas. “Doing things to…force premiums higher and higher make no sense whatsoever.”
Rep. Ted Yoho, a Committee member from Florida, agreed, noting that instead of weakening the system Congress should look to provide even more protection to more crops.
Weakening crop insurance “would create more uncertainty, especially at a time when our farm income is at a 12-year low,” he said.
Missouri Rep. Vicky Hartzler echoed Yoho’s support during the panel discussion and called preserving crop insurance her “number one priority” during the Farm Bill.
“Because it is a very, very important risk management tool for farms and it’s also important for creditors,” she said.
Hartzler, who owns and operates a farm, explained to the audience that farming is capital intensive and that farmers must borrow money each year to plant – sums that can total more than most Americans borrow to buy a home.
Insurance gives banks confidence to extend those loans, she said, because it helps farmers manage their business’ unique risks and avoid bankruptcy after floods and droughts.
Congressman Rodney Davis said keeping crop insurance is also about being fiscally responsible while providing some certainty for the Illinois farmers he represents.
“The old way we used to do things with disaster declarations, was not budgeted,” he said, using the 2012 drought as an example of how the new system works.
Damage predictions were close to $40 billion during that drought, he noted, but aid delivered to farmers was closer to $17 billion because of the public-private partnership and because farmers help fund the system by paying premiums and shouldering losses through deductibles.
“We have to have a crop insurance program,” Davis concluded. “It’s saving money for American taxpayers.”