The following column by Senator Mike Johanns is the most recent installment in the Senator’s weekly column series.
Nebraska is no stranger to the forces of Mother Nature. From violent thunderstorms and tornadoes to blizzards to drought, we’ve seen many heart wrenching examples of destructive weather. This is especially true for our state’s ag producers, whose livelihoods are invested in land, livestock and equipment—all commonly exposed to the elements.
The impact of damaged or destroyed ag operations reaches far beyond the farm or ranch. In our state, where a third of all jobs are related to agriculture and our ag exports generate billions in economic activity, the success of our economy depends on the abilities of our producers to operate, even in the face of events beyond their control. Our ag producers are a hardy, self-reliant bunch. They don’t look for handouts and are usually the first to offer a hand when disaster strikes. That’s why risk management programs are so important.
This week, the Department of Agriculture announced it is moving forward with important updates to the crop insurance program, which I advocated for in this year’s farm bill. The goal is to provide greater flexibility and improved options for ag producers so they are prepared when disaster strikes, while minimizing taxpayer obligations by requiring producers to put skin in the game.
These programs are especially important for a new crop of farmers who are just starting out. For these beginning farmers one storm without a safety net could mean the end of their career. The new updates, authorized in the 2014 farm bill, will remove administrative hurdles for beginning farmers and ensure they can continue to build their operation even after damaging acts of nature.
Livestock disaster programs are critical for producers in the wake of devastating weather. Nebraska leads the nation in red meat production, so the health of our herds and the livelihood of our livestock producers are important planks to our ag economy. I was saddened to learn about livestock deaths following an early-season blizzard last year and tornadoes last month. The Livestock Indemnity Program has been reauthorized and producers are already getting needed assistance so they can continue fueling our economy. I will continue working with USDA to ensure our ag producers have access to this crucial backstop when they are in need, and that the programs are being administered correctly.
Ag producers across the state have told me they aren’t interested in government handouts, like the direct payment programs that ended with this year’s farm bill. They just want the tools to manage their risk appropriately, and have the peace of mind that their life’s work will not be destroyed because of events beyond their control. That’s exactly what these programs do. They are important for our producers and they are important to grow our state’s economy. I will continue working with our farmers and ranchers to ensure they have the tools they need to be successful.