When the homesteaders came to Kansas, they were looking for land to farm and a chance at the American dream. If they were like my family, they arrived here in a covered wagon, and many of us still live on the land where they began to build their dreams.
But Kansas can be a cruel place to farm. On the turn of a dime, a lifetime’s worth of work and every penny you have can be wiped out by a single hailstorm, a heat wave or drought, a springtime flood or frost, or a market crash that erases any chance of profit regardless of how well your crops do that year.
And that, in a nutshell, is why the vast majority of Kansas farmers purchase crop insurance every year, and why it must remain available, affordable and viable. In fact, with the passage of the 2014 farm bill, crop insurance is the primary risk management tool available to commodity farmers and the only risk management tool available to many specialty crop farmers.
One thing that has dramatically changed in agriculture since my family homesteaded in Minneapolis, Kan., is that farming has now become an incredibly capital-intensive venture. It takes so much money just to put a crop in the ground and harvest it at the end of the season that anyone farming without crop insurance might as well be playing Russian roulette.
I’ve had lots of friends tell me over the past several years that if it weren’t for crop insurance, they would not have been able to put a crop in the ground the next year. Crop insurance is a public-private partnership whereby farmers purchase private policies from participating companies that sell and service the policies. One of the government’s main roles is to discount the policies to a degree that they are widely affordable to most farmers.
In 2014, about 90 percent of planted cropland was protected by crop insurance, paid for out of the back pockets of farmers to the tune of $3.8 billion. Nationally, more than 1.2 million policies were purchased, protecting almost 294 million acres of food, feed, fiber and fuel crops that accounted for more than $110 billion in liabilities.
With the cost of farming so high, most farmers have to actually show proof of having purchased crop insurance in order to secure a production loan from a bank. The farmers get to sleep better at night because they have purchased the protection of crop insurance, and banks are able to make production loans to folks who might otherwise be judged too risky.
Some think that crop insurance is a freebie. Let me set the record straight right now: It’s not. Farmers have skin in the game when they pay their premiums, which is not pocket change. I bet the farmers I know spend $35,000 to $40,000 every year to purchase their policies. And in many years, they don’t collect a dime.
The reason why food supply in the U.S. remains abundant is that we have tools in place to make sure that when farmers are knocked to their knees by the whims of Mother Nature, they have a policy tool in hand to pick themselves back up and plant again. Let’s make sure that crop insurance remains affordable, viable and available for generations to come, to ensure a continued legacy of abundance in America.
Steve Baccus of Minneapolis, Kan., is the immediate past president of the Kansas Farm Bureau. This op-ed appeared in the Wichita Eagle on February 5, 2015.