Historic rains this spring brought devastation to farming communities across the Midwest. As floodwaters rose, farmers had just hours to evacuate their families. Equipment was destroyed, grain was ruined and livestock was lost.
The usual positivity and optimism that defines rural America started to wane.
Farmers, however, know that they can rely on the farm safety net established by Congress to help them pick up the pieces.
Groundwork caught up with Ruth Gerdes, President of Auburn Agency Crop Insurance, in late June while she was on Capitol Hill to testify before the House Agriculture Committee about what she calls the “the jewel in the crown of U.S. farm policy.”
As a crop insurance agent, Gerdes saw the dire situation in the Midwest unfold first-hand. In fact, at the time of recording, many of the farmers she serves were still scrambling to reclaim and plant any portion of the fields they could.
“It’s been quite a year. In 40 years of living and working in southeast Nebraska, I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “Our farmers are struggling to try and figure out what comes next.”
Her colleague Kent Fisher echoed these concerns, saying, “Typically an optimistic group, [farmers] seem to be getting beat down with the uncertainty of what’s going to happen next year and if they’ll even be able to farm.”
Crop insurance is a valuable risk management tool that draws on the power of private industry to efficiently process claims and provide farmers with timely assistance.
Gerdes emphasized the importance of the crop insurance program in her congressional testimony, saying, “While U.S. farm policy offers a number of risk management tools to farmers, ranchers, and dairy producers to help them through low prices and extreme weather events, crop insurance stands out as the single most important tool that farmers have.”
Advances in technology have made this program even more responsive to the needs of rural America. Precision agriculture and GPS mapping technology means that insurance claims can be paid even when fields are inaccessible, a tool that has proven to be critical when determining losses for farmers whose fields remain underwater.
“We always strive to be a little bit better every day in crop insurance,” Gerdes says.
This results in a federal program that not only provides a very real and valuable service to America’s heartland, but is a win for taxpayers as well. This is a rarity in federal policy and should be championed and protected by policymakers.
Recovery from this very soggy spring will be a long process and farmers will have to make hard choices. But they are thankful that the safety net provided by the federal crop insurance program means they can continue to farm another year.
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