Farming needs strong policy and crop insurance

June 3, 2016

By Jeremy Brown
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Published May 28, 2016

If I don’t take care of the land, then it won’t take care of me, so I consider myself one of the stewards of the earth. I know I’m not alone. My brethren in farming are also caretakers of the land, water and air. We want to be productive and profitable, and pass on our farming operations to the next generation better, more fertile, and more sustainable than we received it.

Given this reality, I naturally become concerned and even a bit cross when I see special interest groups in Washington, D.C., trying to paint farmers in negative light as it relates to taking care of the land and our environment. They attack farm policy and crop insurance, but in critiquing these important tools, with little or no empathy for the risks we take, they are really going after me and farmers like me.

One myth these groups perpetuate is that crop insurance encourages farmers to grow on fragile, uncultivated lands. This is simply not reality, as the number of crop acres in the country has remained stable for more than three decades at roughly 328 million. Meanwhile, the number of those acres that are insured by crop insurance is approximately 298 million.

The 2014 Farm Bill layered additional red tape to ensure conservation compliance on all acres where crop insurance is purchased, and fragile lands are protected by eliminating all crop insurance premium support for farmers if they damage wetlands or plow up native sod.

Another myth they spread is that crop insurance only helps big conventional farming operations when in fact it is a risk management tool that is available to all farmers regardless of operation, size, region or crop. I am a young farmer. I grow both conventional and organic cotton. Crop insurance is arguably more critical for me than it is for the long-established farmers, and I purchase a specialized and exceptionally valuable insurance policy for my organic crop.

It’s a big concern of mine that there is a constant need to defend crop insurance against the myths and outright lies that these special interest groups spread in Washington and beyond. And, frankly, sometimes, I’m amazed that there is so much debate in Congress about the small investment in crop insurance and farm policy, considering the return for every American.

Federal spending on these items is well below one percent of the nation’s entire budget, but the benefit to every American consumer is a safe, secure, diverse and affordable food and fiber supply. Moreover, agriculture is the backbone of a strong economy and a strong society, and from a national security standpoint, it is crucial. We don’t want to be held hostage by another country when it comes to feeding our own people. And right now we are competing with foreign countries that are investing far more in their own agriculture sectors than we are and are cheating on their commitments to free trade in the process.

This constant attacking of farm policy and crop insurance undermines those who work hard to grow the food and fiber we all rely upon.

As farmers, we have no control over weather. We have no control over markets. We have no control over our foreign competitors. We cannot just turn our operations on or off. We have to take care of the land 365 days a year. We need a safety net when commodity prices fall. We need affordable and reliable crop insurance to protect our yearly investments.

Today in my part of the country, I know plenty of farmers who are struggling to make it another year because of the current depressed farm economy while others are making the tough decision to get out of the business altogether. Meanwhile, young people are nervous about jumping into a line of work that is mired in risk and is constantly under attack by special interest groups and some lawmakers in Congress. This is an alarming trend.

Sometimes it takes something drastic to happen for people to realize what they have. I certainly hope it is not the loss of agricultural production in this country as a result of Congress chipping away at the farm safety net for us all to fully appreciate how important it is.

Jeremy Brown is a multi-generational Lubbock farmer who grows both conventional and organic cotton in west Texas. He is on the executive committee of Plains Cotton Growers and also grows wheat, rye and peanuts.