If you ask someone outside of the agriculture community to describe the typical American farm, chances are they will paint a picture of the amber waves of grain so prominent in the Midwest.
And while this is certainly a critical component, U.S. agriculture is much more diverse, and stretches far beyond our nation’s breadbasket.
Here in New York, for example, the agriculture industry pours in nearly $6 billion annually to our state. This is a major economic contribution that we couldn’t do without.
But, as we all know, farmers face challenges that most others do not. As a fourth-generation farmer myself, I have witnessed the wrath of Mother Nature on numerous occasions.
So it is critical that we have a risk management plan in place to help us deal with the many things we can’t control.
Crop insurance is at the heart of this effort. This cost-sharing, public-private partnership operates very much like other insurance policies. In total, farmers pay between $3.5 billion and $4 billion in premiums every year. We do so because you can’t put a price on peace of mind.
Part of the reason so many farmers have confidence in the crop insurance program is because many improvements have been made in recent years. The last farm bill, for example, took steps to make crop insurance more affordable and available to specialty crop growers, organic producers and young farmers.
Today, crop insurance is available for more than 130 commodities and has more than 62,000 county crop programs.
This is especially important to states with unique agriculture offerings like ours.
New York farmers – who, like our crops, are a diverse bunch – also appreciate the flexibility of the crop insurance program. Policies can be tailored to each farm’s crops, production methods and risk, and each farmer’s risk tolerance.
Farmers work closely with their crop insurance agents, many of whom are farmers like myself, to find the right fit for their needs.
Despite the effectiveness of the crop insurance program – or perhaps because of it – the program still has its critics.
As we begin to consider the next farm bill, and continued funding, I would remind these misguided critics that in the days before crop insurance, Congress had to deal with passing costly disaster relief, and taxpayers footed the bill.
Sometimes folks are quick to criticize crop insurance because they don’t realize that, like agriculture, the program touches every state in the nation. It has proven itself to be our most effective risk-management tool.
Let’s allow this program to keep working, not just for the farmers who put everything on the line year after year, but for the solvency of our state and national agriculture economies as well.
Steve Van Voorhis is a fourth-generation farmer in Monroe County and a crop insurance agent.