New York Dairy Farmer Thanks Crop Insurance

Dairy farmer Steve Durfee milks about 1,000 cows at his farm in upstate New York. It’s a family operation, started by Durfee’s grandparents in the 1940s after they lost everything during the Dust Bowl in Nebraska and moved east to start again.

Now, if anything were to happen on Durfee’s farm, he has peace of mind knowing that his crop insurance policy will help protect his family and give them the opportunity to rebound.

Durfee shared his experience with crop insurance in a recent guest column he wrote for the Madison County Courier:

When I think back to the challenges my grandparents faced as they packed up and left Nebraska, it reminds me just how much farming has changed. I think they’d be surprised and pleased at how successful our family farm has become.

We wouldn’t have been as successful without a strong farm safety net. The centerpiece of that safety net is the public-private partnership of crop insurance.

I recently invited representatives from the crop insurance industry to my farm to tell my story and show them how we use crop insurance to manage the weather and price risks that, for my grandparents, were nearly unmanageable.

The large investment required for each acre we plant makes crop insurance a must. Buying insurance helps take out some of the risk on those acres.

As Durfee notes, farmers would rather sell their products on the market than file an insurance claim. Thankfully, crop insurance helps America’s farmers and ranchers pick up the pieces when disaster strikes, ensuring they can continue providing our nation with food, fuel and fiber.

He concluded his column by urging Congress to keep families like his in mind as they discuss protecting and strengthening farm policy.

I’d like to thank Congress and the American public for backing a strong system of crop insurance in the Farm Bill. As the political cycle heats up and we head toward the 2020 elections, I hope policymakers will remember just how important crop insurance has become to rural America.

New York Farmers Rely on Crop Insurance to Manage Risk

Apple farmer and agri-tourism business owner Matthew Critz got up on New Year’s morning last year to a beautiful winter day in central New York.

Not a cloud in the sky. Wall-to-wall sunshine.

“I look outside at the thermometer and it says 30 below,” he recalled. “And it’s even colder in my orchard. We lost 70 percent of our crop in about three hours that morning.”

Without apples, his business would die. Critz Farms, in Cazenovia, is an easy drive from Syracuse and attracts about 70,000 visitors a year. He sells apples, blueberries, maple syrup and Christmas trees along with brewing beer and hard cider.

“If we don’t have apples, people don’t come,” he says.

Crop insurance saved Critz last year and allowed him to purchase enough apples to make up for the shortfall caused by Mother Nature.

“It did provide quite a good cushion for us,” he says.

National Crop Insurance Services visited farms across central New York as part of our mission to tell the first-hand stories of the farmers and ranchers who rely on the safety net provided by the federal crop insurance program.

Dairy farmer Steve Durfee in Chittenango says the large investment required for each acre he plants makes crop insurance a must. He has about 1,000 milk cows, grows corn and wheat and runs a small vegetable stand mostly for the surrounding neighborhood.

“Buying insurance helps take out some of the risk,” he says. “Last year just looking at what the price of milk was and saying if it continues at this level, it would certainly put a lot of stress on our finances.”

He bought a dairy revenue protection policy to help mitigate the risk of the volatile dairy market. Fortunately, the price of milk rebounded, and he didn’t need to use the insurance.

Like all farmers, Durfee would rather sell his products at a good price than make an insurance claim.

“Crop insurance is just like all the other insurance you have,” he says. “We end up spending a lot of money on insurance, but you can sleep at night knowing if something happens, you are going to be protected partially and you will be able to rebound from it and continue on.”

Down the road in Wolcott, that peace-of-mind is something Alicia Abendroth understands. She runs Abendroth’s Apple Ridge Orchard with her brother and father. They’ve been in business about 6 years.

“For my brother and I, this is a huge deal and we want to grow this,” she says.

As a young farmer, and a young family business, protecting the investment they make in each apple tree is critical to make sure the business grows.

Hail in August this year damaged a crop of early apples right before harvest.

“When something like that happens, there is nothing you can do,” she says. “You just kind of watch it fall. We utilize crop insurance when incidents like that happen that are completely beyond our control. And we are thankful we have it because it’s saved our lives. Crop insurance has helped my dad sleep better at night.”

Central New York is a wonderful place to farm with generally good growing conditions and easy access to large populations of consumers. But here, like the rest of America’s farm country, Mother Nature can be unforgiving.

Back in Cazenovia, that’s something Matthew Critz says he never forgets.

“Your worst risk is weather,” he says. “And if you can cushion that risk with crop insurance, you gotta do it because farming is such a risky business.”

View more stories from across the country at cropinsuranceinamerica.org.

Crop insurance protects New York’s farm economy

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.