Not a Fair Fight

October 11, 2012

While the nation’s farmers have been busy fighting the effects of one of the worst droughts on record, certain members of the media have been busy with a fight of their own.

Over the past several weeks, planted articles have downplayed the importance of farm policy and, a more recent argument accused the crop insurance system of taking a toll on taxpayers. To members of these editorial boards, this assessment may seem insightful, but to the men and women of rural America working to keep crops alive and cattle hydrated, it seems nothing less than disconnected.

On September 2, the Cedar Rapids Gazette claimed that the “highest cost of drought falls on taxpayers,” prompting a response from Iowa farmer Steve Hamilton, who wrote, “in 2011, Iowa farmers spent $444 million of their money to purchase 124,000 crop insurance policies, of which only 15,000 were indemnified.”

The system does in fact present a cost to farmers, Hamilton pointed out—a cost they are more than willing to pay to guard against the potential of losing everything—but it also saves taxpayers a tremendous amount of money by leveraging private insurance and reinsurance dollars to come in when losses occur.

But the attacks continued.

On September 17, the Chicago Tribune tossed aside the importance of the farm bill, referring to it as “bad farm legislation” and praising the political gridlock preventing its passage.

Tom Zacharias, president of the National Crop Insurance Services, responded to the editorial by noting without stable farm policy, including crop insurance, a year like this one would have resulted in costly disaster bills and billions of taxpayer dollars.

Today, Zacharias wrote, “84 percent of eligible farmland, some 266 million acres growing food, feed, fuel and fiber for this nation and the world, was protected by crop insurance policies.”

A good thing for farmers and taxpayers alike, considering more than half of the nation experienced moderate to severe drought this summer. And if there’s one thing that virtually all reasonable people can agree upon, it’s the need to protect our domestic food and fuel supply.

Two weeks later, perhaps fed up with reading about how the policy that so closely impacts him works or doesn’t from people miles away from a farm, a fourth generation Montana farmer wrote to the Billings Gazette to share his perspective.

Chris Westergard wrote, “Last year, it was so wet from spring rains that I couldn’t get all of my land seeded. This year, after a promising start, it has become too dry. Mother Nature can be unpredictable, and a few bad years in a row without a good risk management strategy in place could mean the end of your farming career. That’s why I’ve purchased crop insurance every year since I started farming in 2001.”

“Crop insurance is no small expense for those of us who purchase it, but generally is the best — and in some cases the only — risk management tool available… Crop insurance forces farmers to ‘put some skin in the game’ by purchasing the insurance and taking charge of their own risk management strategies… As crop insurance has grown, taxpayer spending for farm safety net programs as a whole has dropped from $19.2 billion in 2002 to an estimated $12.3 billion in 2011, a 36 percent decline.”

The agenda-driven critics and naysayers will no doubt persist in their attacks on farm policy and crop insurance particularly, but the truth is these policies are working on the ground to accomplish their goals of providing some stable foundation for farmers while protecting the taxpayers’ interests.  For anyone who doubts this, we would invite them to buy a farm and see if they can make it alone.