California’s central valley has been called America’s salad bowl, but honestly in the last four years, it looks more like a dust bowl than a vegetable garden. The historic drought has caused many California farmers to pay prices for water – just to keep their orchards alive – that most Americans would find unfathomable.
Almond, stone fruit, grape and citrus owners once paid roughly $70 per acre foot to ensure that their long term investments had enough water to remain healthy and productive. That cost is now as much as $1,300 per acre foot – about an 1800 percent increase – all while the retail value of their crops has risen very little in comparison.
Estimates are that 170,000 jobs in Kern County alone are directly connected to farming and harvesting. But the number of jobs connected to supporting those farmers, growers and harvesters is around eight times that amount. Crop insurance acts as an underpinning for all of these important jobs and productivity that represent a sizeable portion of our economy.
In the past, a wide scale disaster of this magnitude would have triggered a series of very expensive ad hoc disaster bills paid for exclusively by taxpayers. But there has not been a single disaster bill passed even though this drought refuses to release its grip. And that’s because nowadays, farmers are able to purchase the protection and peace of mind of crop insurance.
Crop insurance is a public private partnership whereby farmers purchase policies with their own money, and the policies are sold and serviced by participating companies and agents.
Clearly, the success behind crop insurance is that it’s affordable, viable, and available. Unlike other forms of insurance, any farmer who wishes to purchase crop insurance can do so, regardless of the size of their farming operation or how many years they may have under their belts farming.
Farmers prefer crop insurance because it allows them to pay a premium to help remove some degree of risk from a very volatile business. Twenty years ago, many farmers had never heard of crop insurance. Today, crop insurance protects more than 90 percent of planted acres nationally.
A crop insurance check will never come close to what a farmer can get from a good harvest. But it does offer farmers some peace of mind so that they know that if Mother Nature gets ugly, they can bounce back and be in business again next year. That’s good for consumers, who don’t want their food supply disrupted, and good for the rural economy as well.
When I began this career 13 years ago, I was surprised that bankers were making loans without the guarantee of crop insurance. Obviously, that doesn’t happen much anymore. In fact, it’s very difficult for farmers to get a loan at all without a crop insurance policy in hand.
Of course, crop insurance has its critics who try and make the program sound like another federal handout. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, when farmers purchase crop insurance, they receive a bill, not a check. And only receive a payment if they incur a loss greater than a deductible amount chosen a year in advance. Just like homeowners insurance, farmers buy crop insurance hoping they won’t have to use it, but rest better at night knowing they are more secure.
Yes, this drought has been historic and is about as stubborn as a drought can be. But farmers are hardworking, honest and smart businessmen and women who have armed themselves with the best tools possible to weather this storm. And crop insurance has ensured that California’s central valley will remain America’s fruit and vegetable garden for generations to come.
Todd Snider is a crop insurance agent, Kern County Farm Bureau director, Bakersfield Homeless Center director, and resides in Bakersfield, California.
This op-ed appeared in the Bakersfield Californian on November 3, 2015.