Crop Insurance Helps Preserve Farming for Future Generations

Farming is a unique profession in so many ways. First, it is more like a calling — to be part of God’s gifts here, and a steward of these gifts. To follow a crop from seed to harvest, or to see an animal born and grow to maturity — that’s a lot of the reason we do what we do.

But farming is different from other professions in other ways as well, including the unique risks and unpredictabilities we face every year. Farmers, for example, are always at the mercy of the weather. A 200-bushel corn crop can quickly become a 50-bushel corn crop under the wrong conditions.

In addition, we face a volatile market and never know which way the pendulum is going to swing. Lately, it hasn’t been swinging in our direction.

Thankfully, we have tools like crop insurance that help us manage risks like these. I feel strongly that crop insurance is critical to preserving our farms for future generations. So strongly, in fact, that in addition to being a farmer, I have also served as a crop insurance agent for fellow farmers for nearly two decades.

In my role as a crop insurance agent, I work with growers to help them purchase protection they need whether they are starting a farm, or preparing for their next crop.

For beginning farmers, having this protection is especially important. Many farmers starting out rely on banks for operating loans and these banks often require crop insurance so that farmers can pay back these loans if they have a bad year.

It has been extremely rewarding for me to work with these young farmers and to play a role in helping them not only get started in business, but stay in business despite the numerous challenges farm country has experienced in recent years.

During the severe drought of 2012, for example, our area had terrible crop yields. That year was hard enough on established farmers, but for beginning farmers I know that having crop insurance played an integral role in their survival.

There are a few misconceptions out there about crop insurance, which have become especially widespread during the ongoing Farm Bill negotiations. But let’s be clear: crop insurance is not a handout.

Farmers purchase crop insurance out of their own pockets. On average, farmers spend $3.5 to $4 billion per year out for crop insurance coverage. Last year in Kentucky, farmers collectively paid $57 million for coverage. As is the case with other types of insurance, we must prove that we have met a deductible to be eligible for a payment for a portion of our loss.

Because of the unique risks involved in farming, the federal government also provides support to reduce the cost to farmers. If we didn’t have this federal support, crop insurance would simply not be affordable most of America’s farmers and ranchers.

Of note, before crop insurance was widely available and efficient like it is today, the cost of natural disasters fell directly on U.S. taxpayers by way of disaster bills. And they took forever to get to the farm.

I am fortunate to be the eighth generation of my family to farm in Larue County though I didn’t inherit family farm land. We purchased our farm more than a decade ago, basically starting from scratch. It hasn’t always been easy, but it is our way of life — our calling. Agriculture has always been the backbone of our country, and I would love for one or all three of my children to carry on this tradition.

In order for that to happen, we have to protect crop insurance.

Jeremy Hinton, farmer and crop insurance agent, Hodgenville, Kentucky

First, Do No Harm

The Classical Latin phrase Primum non nocere or “First, do no harm,” has long been a part of British and American medical ethics. Congress would do well to heed this maxim when making policy, especially when that policy involves our food supply.

For several years now farm incomes have been down significantly, many farmers are making less than they did in 2013, and news reports over the last six months attribute the on-going stress in the agricultural sector to an epidemic of suicide among our farmers. Given the severe economic conditions for so many of our farmers, the last thing Congress should do is make our farmers’ lives even more difficult by tinkering with public policy in a manner that could make the situation significantly worse.

During consideration of the current Farm Bill, a few loud voices have called for dramatic changes to the public-private partnership system of Federal Crop Insurance that undergirds the rural economy. While all federal programs should be scrutinized on a regular basis to root out waste, fraud, and abuse, the good news is the Federal Crop Insurance program is a high performer on that front and it provides a critical life-line to the Heartland when the farm economy is imperiled by flood, drought, or pestilence.

As a new study published by the Thomas Jefferson Institute shows, it is hard to understate the value of Federal Crop Insurance, which involves a partnership including farmers, who pay insurance premiums, private insurance companies, which bear part of the risk and perform the job of assessing damage and paying claims, and the federal government which acts as a final reinsurance backstop for the program. This partnership is a far cry from former federal policy that put the entire cost of farm policy on the taxpayer.

Having Federal Crop Insurance means that even in the face of natural disaster, next year’s crop can still be planted. That guarantee means that banks are willing to lend to farmers and farmers can purchase seeds, equipment, fertilizer and all the other things necessary to produce the next crop. Federal Crop Insurance protects $100 billion in agricultural products which supports the livelihood of millions of Americans and the health of the rural economy.

From the standpoint of the taxpayer, Federal Crop Insurance represents a good return on investment. Federal Crop Insurance costs approximately $9 billion per-year out of a budget of more than $4.1 trillion, which means that it constitutes roughly one-twenty-fifth of one percent of annual federal spending. In return, we are assured of a continued food supply even in the face of natural disaster and protection for economic activities that constitute more than five percent of the country’s economic output. In human terms, these big numbers translate into thousands upon thousands of jobs not just for farmers but for manufacturers, sales people, nurses, doctors, lawyers, bankers, accountants, teachers and many others across the agricultural Heartland.

Now is not the time to tinker with a program that performs so well and makes sure that we all may eat.

James C. Musser Musser is a Senior Fellow, Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy. Previously he served at Special Advisor to the Chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee and also Vice President at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Slicing crop insurance cuts at America’s Heartland

It’s been a wet spring around my family’s farm. We’re about three weeks behind on planting and, like many of my neighbors in Magnolia, we’re hoping for continued warm weather.

I love this time of the year. This is what it’s all about for a farmer — putting a seed in the ground and raising it all season for harvest.

My family has been doing just that in this part of Kentucky for nine generations. At 31, I’m already a lifer. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing than growing soybeans, corn and winter wheat and raising pigs in a pretty part of the world.

But, lately, the business of farming has been tough. I’m not the only one feeling the pressure. Nationally, farm incomes are down 50 percent compared to what they were five years ago. That’s put a pinch on everyone.
Grain prices are down. So are beef, pork, poultry and milk. Couple all that with the fact that most of your farmland operations, on any scale, have substantial debt loads, and it’s easy to see how people are struggling in farm country.

On the upside, we have a growing global population and I think the future is bright — especially if smart policy decisions are made in Washington. Congress currently is debating the Farm Bill, which is critical to how we plan and run our business.

Crop insurance, which is part of the Farm Bill, has become the main way farms mitigate the risks of uncontrollable weather and unpredictable price swings. It has become the cornerstone of the American farm safety net.

Crop insurance is a lot like life insurance. You don’t ever want to use it. But at the same time, it helps manage through a disaster and helps you stay in business.

The last time we used crop insurance was the drought of 2012. Without it, we would have had a hard time planting our next crop.

Most banks require it nowadays to get an operating loan at the start of the season.

Crop insurance has changed a lot in recent years — offering dozens of policies and coverage options that are as unique as America’s farms. This ability to tailor coverage to fit your individual need and adapt to a changing market is one reason crop insurance has become so popular.

Products such as Harvest Price Option give us modern tools to manage the risks of modern agriculture.

HPO lets us forward market our crops. It protects revenue, not just yields, offering the equivalent of “replacement value” coverage on a car.

As farmers, we’re willing to pay extra for the protection HPO offers because it gives you the faith you need to put your borrowed money in the ground and know you’ll be able to pay it back.

I hope Congress will leave crop insurance alone in the Farm Bill.

Without this essential risk-management tool, a lot of farmers are going to be left holding the bag. Without it, it is going to be hard to incentivize folks to put out crops and produce the food and fiber we need to feed and clothe the country.

Cutting crop insurance would be like cutting the heart out of the heartland. That’s not just bad for farming; that’s bad for everyone.

Caleb Ragland grows soybean, corn, winter wheat and raises pigs with his father and grandfather at Shady Rest Farm in Magnolia. He can be reached at

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.

Crop insurance must be protected in upcoming Farm Bill

As the Farm Bill is being debated in Washington, one thing that I, as president of the Montana Grain Growers, am committed to emphasizing is the importance of crop insurance.

Put simply, crop insurance is cornerstone of our nation’s farm policy, with 90 percent of farmland today enrolled in the program. In Montana, that accounts for 19.8 million acres and $1.1 billion in insured liability on growing crops.

The numbers tell the story, but let me share another compelling one — my own.

I returned to my fourth-generation family farm in south central Montana in 2012 and my first wheat crop was harvested the following year. During that first growing season, we were in the middle of a significant drought — and ultimately went almost 24 months with little to no precipitation. Late rains helped a little, but for my winter wheat, much of the damage had already been done.

The crop was slow to emerge, slow to grow, and had several other issues that limited its potential. Then came the final devastating blow. In June, a powerful thunderstorm rolled through the area. By the time it was finished, three-quarters of my crop was pounded into the ground. What limited potential that the crop did have was erased in a matter of minutes.

For a fledging farm operation like mine, something like this would be impossible to come back from without some safety net in place. Because of crop insurance, I was able to farm again after that year, and continue, alongside my father and husband, to farm the land to this day.

No, crop insurance certainly didn’t make up for the crop I lost that first year, but it did keep me from having to tell the bank I could not pay back my operating loans, or that I could not make the payments on my new machinery loan. Having crop insurance kept me from failing before I even got started.

My story is not unique. Farmers across the nation must take out huge operating loans to keep their businesses afloat. This, combined with the unpredictability of Mother Nature, makes it having crop insurance crucial to the solvency of these operations.

A handful of farm policy critics in D.C, who have never stepped foot on a farm, are quick to call for cuts to crop insurance despite the fact it is more efficient and cost-effective than the alternative. I don’t think any of us would like to go back to the days before we had crop insurance, when natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly emergency disaster legislation, with taxpayers footing the bill.

Farmers and rural communities know the importance of the crop insurance firsthand. We know it needs to remain a viable program for farmers and we know we need to protect it from having bits and pieces dismantled through budget resolutions, appropriations, and Farm Bill negotiations.

It is incumbent on all of us to share this message with lawmakers in Washington to and urge them to “do no harm” to the crop insurance program.

Michelle Erickson-Jones is president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. She operates a grain and forage operation with her father, Bart, and husband, Travis, near Broadview.

Crop insurance protects farming for future generations

Wheat farmers in the heartland are facing tough times. Prices have bottomed out, Mother Nature has been unrelenting and this year’s wheat harvest was well below average.

On our five-generation family farm in Sentinel, the story is no different. Our wheat acres were down just like nearly everybody else who grows the crop. And unfortunately, some economists are predicting things might get worse before they get better.

It’s in years like these that we can really appreciate the importance of the farm safety net, with federally supported crop insurance as its cornerstone. To be blunt, it would virtually be impossible to farm in western Oklahoma without crop insurance. And certainly impossible to secure the farm for future generations.

Crop insurance helps us manage risk and we are happy to pay into this safety net that kicks in when the worst happens. More often than not, farmers pay into the crop insurance system and don’t get anything back at all. And that is how we prefer it.

We are in the farming business and we take pride in our crops. We set out from the get-go to raise a crop the best we can. We want to get our money out of the marketplace, if we can. I tell my crop insurance agent, “I hope you don’t pay me a penny. I don’t want your money — I want it in the marketplace where it belongs.”

But in farming, there are no guarantees. And that is where crop insurance comes in. It won’t make up for a bad year, but it helps us to keep farming for another year.

It hasn’t always been this way. I have been farming for more than five decades and I remember quite well the days before we had an effective crop insurance program. For many years, natural disaster management was mostly accomplished in the form of costly disaster bills. These bills were not only slow in arriving to the farm, but also fell flat on the laps of taxpayers.

With crop insurance, agents sell policies, insurance companies service them and the U.S. Department of Agriculture oversees the program, making it affordable and widely available to all growers through aspects such as premium discounts.

For beginning farmers, having this protection is especially important. Many young farmers rely on banks for operating loans. And banks won’t make these loans without assurance that farmers would have a way to pay it back if Mother Nature strikes.

Farm policy critics, many of whom are paid anti-farm lobbyists, can be quick to criticize crop insurance. But ask anyone in farm country and they will tell you that putting limits on our most successful farm safety net tool is the last thing we can afford right now, especially given the current downturn.

I want to see my sons and grandsons continue our family tradition of farming. For this reason, and many others, I encourage you to join me in calling on our lawmakers in Washington to preserve and protect this important program as they continue to debate budgets and the upcoming farm bill. The future of farm country may very well depend on it.

Musick, of Sentinel, is president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.​

Crop insurance critical for farmers and consumers

The Farm Bill debate is heating up in Washington and that has me thinking back to 2015.

We received way too much rainfall in central Missouri that spring and my family’s farm in Boone County, like many across the state, suffered big losses. We were only able to plant 40 out of our normal 500 acres of soybeans. Statewide, more than a million acres of soybeans went unplanted.

Without crop insurance, an event like that would have financially broken our farm.

It would have been nearly impossible to stay in business for the following year because of overhead costs like equipment and land, not to mention the input costs required to raise a crop that were already applied.

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That was a tough year for my dad, Nathan, and me. We farm 1,000 acres raising corn, soybeans and occasionally small grains. My dad also runs a cow-calf operation.

Crop insurance, which is part of the farm bill, helped us that year but it doesn’t cover all of the costs. Prevented-planting coverage, in the 2015 example, only covered 60 percent of our per-acre revenue, minus the premium we paid.

But it’s certainly better than going out of business. And that’s something I hope Congress considers in the 2018 farm bill.

I grew up on a farm. I studied agricultural systems management at the University of Missouri and worked as a field test engineer for three years after college. I enjoyed it and was able to travel all over the United States and across parts of South America.

But you can only travel like that for so long, and I love farming. So, when an opportunity opened up back home I gladly returned to the family farm.

It’s an honor to grow food for America and the world. But it’s also much riskier than a paycheck from an employer, like when I worked as an engineer. Crop insurance for me, as a young producer, is a critical risk management tool.

Row crops especially are very capital intensive. The equipment, machinery, buildings and structures on the farm and the land all have costs. Then you add in costs like seed, fertilizer, pest protection and fuel, and it equals a significant investment per acre every year.

All of those dollars invested each year are subject to risk that farmers cannot control based upon the weather and the markets.

Crop insurance is a way we can mitigate risk and hopefully be able to continue to farm the following season if we do have a weather disaster that prevents us from being solvent.

Crop insurance is not unlike other forms of insurance. Whether it’s your automobile or health insurance, you don’t intend to ever have a claim or use the policy, but it’s a safety net when something goes wrong. It’s there as risk protection, and it’s something that is necessary to be successful in today’s farming operations.

That’s why it has become a cornerstone of the American farm safety net. It’s a public-private partnership that protects the investments farmers make in each crop and it protects taxpayers from costly disaster-relief bills.

It means when weather strikes in central Missouri, the insurance companies help cover the losses, not Congress. That’s why it is so strange that some lawmakers are angling to make crop insurance more expensive and less available.

I hope Congress remembers in the next farm bill that crop insurance is not only necessary for rural America, but that ultimately it protects the consumer. Without it, we would not be able to provide a safe, reliable and affordable food supply for America and the rest of the world.

Brian Martin raises corn, soybeans, and small grains with his father, Nathan, in Boone County, Missouri.

Crop insurance more important than ever to Missouri farmers

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.

Keep crop insurance affordable in Southern Maryland

Sixty years ago, in Southern Maryland, you were either a waterman, a farmer or both. We were an agricultural society back then. There were no computers, and Patuxent River Naval Air Station was still developing.

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Insurance vital for farmers

Even the best-laid plans sometimes go wrong. No one knows this more than a farmer. They can plan out the entire year for how they will harvest a crop, but a single storm or a drop in the market can change everything. It can leave a farmer in financial ruin, and in the worst of cases, it can leave them without the ability to start again the following year.

This is why most farmers purchase crop insurance. It is the one part of the plan that holds together in a crisis. It is a tool that farmers rely upon when things go awry.

This hasn’t always been the case. When crop insurance got its start in the 1930s, it was a poorly run government program and rarely used. The premiums were too high and the coverage area was too limited, which resulted in low participation. Farmers mainly relied on costly ad hoc disaster assistance when natural disasters wiped out their crops, but that required Congress to not only act to authorize this assistance, but to act quickly. It was a clumsy system that didn’t provide any peace of mind to farmers or their bankers, and it was a costly way to operate since Congress was never budgeting for this disaster assistance.

This led lawmakers to rethink the mechanics of the program. In 1980, Congress passed the Federal Crop Insurance Act, which created the successful public-private partnership that remains today where risk is shared among farmers, the Federal government, and private insurance providers.

Premiums are more affordable for farmers through a government discount. Insurance products have expanded to include more crops across the country. Both of these factors have increased participation and broadened the risk pool, which makes the program more actuarially sound. Private companies are servicing the policies and making sure any claims are processed in an efficient and timely manner.

Another part of this success story is that Congress no longer has to worry about authorizing unbudgeted disaster assistance. Further, the current cost of crop insurance is under budget.

With Congress gearing up to write a new farm bill, a central concern for farmers all across the country is that lawmakers will fail to recognize this success story and will create new policy that undermines a farmer’s ability to manage risk.

The farm economy is struggling with net farm income half of what it was four years ago. Planning for the future is challenging enough given these circumstances, let’s not make it harder by eliminating a farmer’s ultimate backup plan when everything else fails.

Luke Sandrock is a junior partner and crop insurance agent at The Cornerstone Agency, Inc. in northern Illinois.