30 years of heartbreak from a single storm

My family has been farming in south central Ohio for six generations. I’m proud of my heritage and I knew from a young age that there was nothing else I wanted to do.

I was fortunate to be able to come back to the family farm after college at Ohio State University.

I say I was fortunate because, honestly, it wasn’t a sure bet that I would have a chance to continue Metzger Family Farms. We grow soybeans, corn, wheat and just started a crop of malting barley to supply a new processing plant coming to the state.

My family is excited about the future. But the recent past has been full of sacrifice for my uncles, cousins and my grandpa.

When I was 5, on a July day in 1980, a storm tore through our community in Williamsport. The things I remember about that day are the memories of a child: My toy tractor blown down the road. The roof ripped off the house. The shop flattened.

All of that could be repaired.

But in our fields was a disaster that I’ve been dealing with now for my entire adult life.

The storm was never officially classified as a tornado. But the hail and straight winds were just as destructive.

The wheat, which had been ready to harvest, was flat. My family combined it and planted beans but, in the end, we basically had no crops to sell that year. We were left with three-quarters of a million dollars of debt.

What followed was heartbreaking for my family. We had to sell two pieces of land and rent them back to stay in business. Fortunately, we were able to keep one as we started digging out of this tragic hole.

And the digging took decades. We were able to buy one farm back in the late 1980s. We bought back half of the other one only three years ago. And 2 years ago – 36 years after that single storm in a single day back in 1980 – we bought back the other half of the farm we lost to pay our debts.

Combine this with the terrible prices of the 1980s, and it was a time full of stress and sacrifice for my family. They worked harder than I ever have and probably ever will.

Most people would have given up. But that was not them. Bankruptcy and walking away from our family’s farming heritage was not even a choice. Like many Americans, they used hard work and determination to rebuild.

While the story is sad enough, there’s a tragic piece of irony to add.

That year, back in 1980, a man came by the farm selling crop insurance. He was one of the first in our area to offer it. My family declined. We had never needed it before and didn’t see a reason to spend on it then.

It’s easy to second guess your decisions in life. But there’s no use in that. If my family had it to do over again, we probably would have kept our land at all cost. And we most certainly would have purchased that crop insurance policy.

Today, crop insurance is part of our business plan. We couldn’t get an operating loan without it. We wouldn’t be in business without it.

Crop insurance has changed a lot since 1980. With products like Harvest Price Option, which allows farmers to insure revenue and not just yields, it’s no wonder crop insurance has become the cornerstone of the American farm safety net.

HPO lets us forward contract and not be as concerned if we have a short crop in the summer and need to buy back contracts. It allows us to be more aggressive and get as much as we can for all the hard work and investment we make in our crops.

While crop insurance has change a lot since the 1980s, prices haven’t. Net farm income is lower now than it was 5 years ago while input costs in fuel and labor are all up.

That’s why it’s disappointing to hear some members of Congress call for cuts to crop insurance. If Congress eliminates products like Harvest Price Option, crop insurance won’t be as effective, and it will put a burden on farmers who are already burned with low incomes and falling prices.

Without HPO, our farm would have taken another disastrous hit during the drought of 2012 just as we were seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ve spent some time talking to members of Congress in my roles with the state and national soybean associations. I tell them not to mess with crop insurance. It’s working well. Farmers pay for it and it prevents costly disaster relief bills.

As Congress debates the Farm Bill, I hope lawmakers will remember my family’s story and continue to support the modern crop insurance farmers have come to rely on.

Scott Metzger farms with his family at Metzger Family Farms in Williamsport, Ohio. He is on the Ohio Soybean Association Board of Trustees and is a director with the American Soybean Association.