Crop Insurance Critic Plans Biased Research Project

July 23, 2015

The Center for Rural Affairs (CRA) just announced that it has launched a new initiative to weaken the nation’s crop insurance infrastructure.

And CRA is currently working on a research project to drive home its main criticisms – an effort that is raising eyebrows in both the agricultural and research communities.

Dr. Mechel Paggi, associate dean of the Jordan College of Agriculture at California State University, Fresno, says that while CRA’s ostensible goal of strengthening rural economies is laudable, its position on crop insurance is counterproductive in achieving that goal.

“The very crop insurance system CRA criticizes strengthens rural economies and was widely credited with protecting the Midwest from financial hardship during the historic 2012 droughts and 2011 floods,” he explained. “And it will be essential in dealing with future weather disasters, too.”

CRA’s biggest complaint with crop insurance is that farming operations of all sizes and production methods from every region of the country are able to participate. CRA wants to exclude larger farmers from benefits, but Paggi says that will have unintended consequences.

“Insurance premiums go down for everyone as more people participate and help spread out risk,” he explained. “If you remove a group of farmers from crop insurance, particularly a group with lots of acreage, you drive up costs for the farmers who remain insured, which would be particularly painful for small and beginning farmers.”

CRA appears unmoved by that fact and is pressing forward with a “study” criticizing the system.

Farm Policy Facts was able to secure a copy of the questionnaire that will be at the heart of CRA’s research, and we sent it to some researchers to see what they thought.

Dr. Gary Feld, principal at PowerBase Associates, a research firm based in Alexandria, Va., wasn’t a fan.

“The group claims it wants to measure farmers’ attitudes on crop insurance, but instead of asking unprejudiced questions, it simply requests farmers to back CRA’s inaccurate representation of crop insurance,” said Feld, who has worked in political research for more than 15 years and also served as senior analyst for the Los Angeles Times special investigations unit.

“With each question, CRA presupposes a problem and then tests which of their policy prescriptions solves the straw man the Center erected,” he explained.

Jon McHenry, a vice president at North Star Opinion Research who specializes in quantitative and qualitative public opinion polling, agreed.

“This is the equivalent of a national political committee fundraising letter.  They’ve stated in the cover letter their position on the issue, and proceed to ask respondents if they agree with them,” he said. “This is a good way to build a fundraising or mailing list, but not a scientific way to measure public opinion.”

Perhaps raising money for CRA coffers is the real objective. Regardless, it is unfortunate that farmers continue to come under these kinds of attacks so shortly after Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill.

Lawmakers strengthened crop insurance in the 2014 Farm Bill and recognized that in order to be successful, coverage must be affordable and widely available to farmers of all sizes and to a variety of crops. Legislators also realized that ensuring the economic viability of private-sector delivery is a pillar of success.

“Crop insurance is the cornerstone of the farm bill’s safety net and our job now is to make sure we don’t do anything to mess it up,” House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson explained in a recent editorial.

“Quite simply, crop insurance is what keeps farms both big and small in business,” he concluded.