Crop Insurance Keeps Farmers Fighting

Weather is one of a farmers’ top concerns. Just enough sun and rain will power a plant, resulting in a good yield. But too much sun and not enough rain, or too much rain and not enough sun, and a farmer might soon be counting his losses.

The challenges presented by weather volatility was something that we heard repeatedly from farmers in hurricane-prone South Carolina. Fifth-generation farmer Landrum Weathers said that “every year that we don’t get a named storm that hits here is a good year.”

Landrum farms corn, peanuts, soybeans and cotton while also working as a crop insurance agent with the Agriliance Insurance Group. He said choosing to purchase crop insurance is not a difficult decision. It helps sustain his farm, so he can keep producing food and fiber.

“Crop insurance basically ensures that the growers are going to be farming next year. That means that our country doesn’t have to call somebody else, I don’t care who, to get food,” Landrum said.

J.C. Carroll, who founded Agriliance Insurance Group alongside Ben Tillman, echoed Landrum’s comments on food security, explaining “it’s important for farmers to protect themselves with crop insurance. I think that crop insurance is our best safety net… It gives us food security.”

Weather was also top of mind for Johnny Watts, a fourth-generation farmer who grows corn and soybeans and raises cattle. “Every time a storm makes up out in the Atlantic, you kind of hold your breath and, you know, is this going to be it.”

Each storm brings with it a feeling of hopelessness. Farmers can prepare for every scenario, but they can’t hold back Mother Nature.

“You could have a great crop today. Tomorrow, you may not,” Johnny said.

“No farmer wants to have a loss,” explained Brian McClam, a seventh-generation farmer. Brian grows cotton, soybeans, and corn, and has had a couple close calls when it comes to natural disasters.

“Without crop insurance… this farm would not still be here. It would be gone,” Brian said.

Several years ago, seventh-generation farmer Neal Baxley watched as a foot and a half of rain washed away the crops he was about to harvest. An entire growing season, and the expenses and inputs and time that went into that season, gone.

Crop insurance helped soften the blow. Neal said there is a misconception that crop insurance covers a farmer’s entire loss. “It’s not going to make him completely whole but it’s a tool that can try to help him get him through to the next year.”

As Johnny Watts said, “You live to fight another day because of crop insurance.”

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Crop insurance essential for farmers

Farm policy used to focus on providing a safety net for traditional row crops. That was largely due to the Great Depression and its lingering effects.

But farm policy has changed to reflect a country with a diverse agricultural sector. The backbone today is crop insurance, and for good reason: Policies can be customized for all types of farming operations. Whether you’re a peach grower in South Carolina like me or a corn farmer in Iowa or a cherry grower in Michigan or a cotton farmer in Texas, crop insurance is designed to cover you when disasters strike. And the more farmers buying policies, the better we all are in the long run because that spreads the risk.

I recognized the value of crop insurance early in my career. In 1995, I was hired to manage the operation I now own, and one of my first decisions was to purchase crop insurance. When I bought the farm a few years later, I already had the production history to be eligible for crop insurance on my own and obtain financing.

There is a direct link between farm financing and being able to go into business, and any farm financing is going to require crop insurance. That’s why I am always alarmed by the attacks on crop insurance by people who have no frame of reference for what goes into starting a farming operation, putting a crop in the ground and surviving whatever calamity may hit. If anything ever happened to crop insurance that made the banking world question its stability, it would devastate agriculture in this country overnight.

I have experienced three complete freezes that would have put me out of business without insurance. It wouldn’t have been just a matter of not paying my bank loans; it would have been a matter of not paying anybody. My crop insurance policy allowed me to cover at least part of my fixed expenses. It made the difference between starting over with a new crop or starting over with a new career.

Crop insurance has become the risk-management tool of choice for American farmers. It would be a disgrace if a few politicians in Washington succeeded in jeopardizing this essential safety net, crushing rural businesses all across the country, with nothing to show for it but political gain.