No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

September 26, 2011

With the floodwaters rising and the nation’s attention focused on the looming Midwest destruction, government officials asked me to make an enormous sacrifice.

They needed my farmland to extend and build up a levee to hold back an unprecedented wall of water. If I said yes, it would save millions of dollars for businesses, homes and possibly lives in Hamburg, Iowa.

Sacrificing my farm was an easy decision. It was the right thing to do.

Stepping up is nothing new for agriculture.  With a rising tide of debt caused by runaway spending flooding our country, agriculture stood alone in offering up cuts to its policies to help get the country back on track.

All told, more than $15 billion in spending was sacrificed.  It came mostly from the crop insurance system that, ironically, is in place to guard against things like floods.

Farmers and ranchers didn’t whine about these cuts.  Blessed with generally decent prices and production, we swallowed hard and accepted them, crossing our fingers that the bottom didn’t fall out of the farm economy.

But like the old saying goes: No good deed goes unpunished.  Despite being one of the only industries to answer the budget bell for the country’s betterment, farmers are again in cutters’ sights.

This past week, President Barack Obama unveiled a plan to hack another $8 billion out of crop insurance, and even more out of other policies in place, to help provide stability to the men and women who deal with unforeseeable weather and market-related risks every day.

Focusing so squarely on agriculture is strange, considering that farm policies represent less than one-quarter of 1 percent of federal spending, while simultaneously driving a sector that is doing well and creating jobs in an otherwise sagging economy.

These same policies have routinely come in under budget each year, so they clearly are not the culprits for increasing the nation’s debt load.

In terms of the economy, agriculture today employs about 21 million people. That’s six times as many workers as the U.S. automotive industry, and unlike other businesses, it enjoys a robust trade surplus.  In fact, even the Federal Reserve credited agriculture in 2010 as being a principal driver in the nation’s economic recovery.

Enough is enough.  Agriculture must hold its ground and actively oppose outsized cuts. We are not against deficit reduction — again, we are just about the only ones who have already sacrificed — but we should not have to shoulder a disproportionate share.

If final cuts are inequitable, essential backstops like crop insurance might not be around the next time floodwaters rise.  And without farmers, Americans lose their food security.

Elected officials must stop the assault on rural America.

About the author: Mike Woltemath is a fourth-generation grower who owns a farm adjacent to the Hamburg levee in Iowa.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 26 edition of the Omaha World Herald.