Kansas blizzard highlights importance of crop insurance

The foot of snow that fell recently left wheat stalks bent and broken across western Kansas. The damage is heartbreaking. Estimates show as many as 1.7 million acres could be affected.

As I survey the damage, I think back to what it must have been like when my grandfather started farming in western Kansas in 1928. He built his home and had only his hands, and his family, to rely on. It was a tough life.

My father was born in 1934, and my grandmother changed the wet tea towels covering his crib every half hour to keep the dirt from the Dust Bowl out of his lungs.

I’m proud of the adversity my family has overcome to build our successful farming operation, and I’m proud to carry on that tradition as the third generation.

My dad, and my grandfather, taught me an important lesson about farming: We are only stewards of the land. Our job is to care for it and leave in better condition for the next generation. As farmers, we are at our best when we plant successful crops that feed our families, and the world, while conserving the land.

But who takes care of the farmers while we are caring for the land and growing the food? Who helps us when an unexpected April snow destroys our crops and threatens our way of life?

In my father’s day, and certainly my grandfather’s, farmers were mostly on their own. Back then, farmers faced bankruptcy and would have to ask Congress for ad-hoc disaster relief to save their farms.

The politicians would then debate, and years might drag on before farmers got relief at taxpayer expense. Oftentimes, that relief was too late.

Thankfully, things have changed since then.

Today, modern crop insurance means farmers who lost wheat in the storm won’t lose everything they invested in the winter season. It means aid is on its way in weeks, not years. And it means taxpayers don’t have to cover the whole cost.

Some critics claim crop insurance is a way for farmers to pad profits in lean years. But that’s simply not true.

Crop insurance is very expensive. Farmers pay a lot every year out of our own pockets for policies specifically tailored to our operations. We also have to shoulder a percentage of the loss as a deductible – usually about 25 percent – before we get any help. In other words, we are active participants in our own farm policy.

Crop insurance is something you hope you never have to use. It doesn’t pay for the total cost of planting a crop of wheat. But it will keep farmers in business for the next season – and that’s the whole point of a safety net.

Congress and the new administration have promised to protect American jobs. A great way to accomplish that is to maintain an affordable and widely available system of crop insurance in the next farm bill. Our recent hardship in Kansas shows just how important it is.

David Schemm is the president of the National Wheat Growers Association. He farms in Sharon Springs.