It is no secret that we are experiencing hard times in farm country — here in Missouri and beyond. In addition to the typical weather rollercoaster, farmers are facing yet another year of low prices in the marketplace.
Meanwhile, our input costs (farm equipment, fertilizer, land rent, etc.) remain the same. It doesn’t take a math whiz to see that the numbers just aren’t adding up for our nation’s farmers.
As a lifelong farmer myself, I haven’t seen this kind of downturn since the farm crisis of the 1980s. Many of my fellow farmers I have spoken with have shared this same sentiment. It is concerning, to be sure. But thankfully, a few things have changed since then that puts us in a better position to weather this latest storm.
One of the most important developments is the emergence of a strong crop insurance program. Crop insurance is a risk management tool that protects us against elements out of our control. It kicks in, for example, when we experience a loss of our crops due to natural disasters, or a loss of revenue due to market fluctuations.
Crop insurance works a lot like auto insurance or homeowner’s insurance. Banks often require farmers to purchase it, just as they require insurance from homebuyers. Farmers spend between $3.5 billion and $4 billion a year to purchase crop insurance sold through private companies.
Because of the unique risks involved in farming, the federal government also pitches in to reduce the cost to farmers. Without this federal support, crop insurance would not be affordable to a majority of America’s farmers and ranchers.
With it, however, many farmers are able to plant another year.
Crop insurance is especially critical for beginning farmers, who generally have less credit and capital. Going into farming these days is a daunting proposition all around, but crop insurance does provide some important peace of mind to both the young farmer making the investment and the banker making the loan.
But it isn’t just farmers who benefit from a robust crop insurance program. Crop insurance is critical to the broader rural economy as a whole. It provides a backstop to the whole farm supply chain, and to our communities. A calamity on the farm doesn’t have to mean a calamity across the board.
Taxpayers also benefit from a strong crop insurance program. In fact, before crop insurance was widely available like it is today, the cost of natural disasters fell directly on U.S. taxpayers by way of emergency legislation. Now, unlike many other industries, taxpayers aren’t on the hook for bailouts when the bottom falls out.
Farm policy critics would do well to remember that every American consumer relies on agriculture. We all want healthy, fresh food for our families. We also want affordable food. In today’s difficult farm economy, crop insurance provides an important measure of stability. Access to affordable crop insurance allows American farmers to continue to provide affordable food for America and the world. Without it, I can guarantee you it wouldn’t take long for it to hit everyone’s pocketbook at the grocery store
I encourage our lawmakers in Washington to also keep this in mind as they develop the next Farm Bill, and urge them to work together preserve a strong crop insurance program.
Afterall, as the famous saying goes, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And that’s something none of us can afford.
Dorian Culver is a soybean farmer and crop insurance agent from Harrisonville, Missouri.