#ICYMI: Insurance on crops boosts farms of all sizes

December 1, 2015

The Journal Gazette
Published on November 27, 2015
by Joe Kessie

It is no secret that farm demographics demonstrate an alarming trend in American agriculture.

The average age of the American farmer is rising while the number of beginning farmers is decreasing.

These beginning farmers are typically younger than their more established counterparts with less access to credit and capital.

I see this reality every day as a banker at one of the largest agricultural lending institutions in Indiana. In general, all farmers need access to credit to operate and manage a farm, but it is even more crucial for a young farmer because of the enormous startup costs.

It is not an exaggeration to say that farmers borrow more in a single year to grow a crop than some Americans borrow in a lifetime.

And, frankly, banks can be wary of lending to a young farmer just starting out because of the combination of a short credit history and the inherent riskiness of the business.

The one factor in their favor is crop insurance. By purchasing a policy, young farmers enhance their ability to obtain financing because banks have the assurance they can make payments even during tough times.

But opponents of farm policy in Washington are proposing legislation that, if enacted, would threaten the viability of this important risk management tool and make it harder for young, beginning farmers to survive.

These farm policy critics would have you believe that barring producers with large operations from participating in crop insurance helps smaller farmers.

Actually, it does the opposite.

Pooling of risk is essential for any viable insurance program. Because every farmer of every size in every part of the country can purchase crop insurance, the risk pool is large and diverse, which makes crop insurance affordable for all farmers and minimizes the financial exposure of the bank, the farmer and the taxpayer.

Similarly, car insurers want older, more experienced drivers in the same risk pool as those who are younger and potentially more accident-prone.

Eliminating the more established farmers from the mix shrinks this pool and undermines the entire system, making it harder for smaller, beginning farmers to get insurance coverage and, subsequently, agricultural financing.

Statistics already show us that farming is a hard life with fewer and fewer people willing to try it.

Now is not the time to make starting a farm even more difficult by destroying the viability and affordability of crop insurance.

Now is the time to protect the one thing beginning farmers and their bankers can count on.

Joe Kessie is the senior vice president and commercial south regional manager at Lake City Bank in Warsaw.