If it’s a Farm Bill year, you know that farm policy critics are going to come out swinging with the same old attacks on family farmers and ranchers. None of the material is new. The only difference is the attacks seem to be less tethered to the truth. Biting the hand that feeds them? Yes. It’s ugly. But since there are so many new voices in the Farm Bill conversation, we need to knock down these flimsy, tired attempts to eliminate the farm safety net with actual facts. We’ve had to do this more than a few times.
Let’s dismantle some recent #FarmPolicyFallacies from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and its accomplices with some facts. (After all, it’s in our name!)
What the critics say: The cost of the farm safety net is out of control!
The Truth: The entirety of the farm safety net is projected to only cost about 0.2% of the expected federal budget over the next 10 years. It’s at a historic low. That’s a steal of a deal to protect our national food security, and in fact, we need to make some smart investments in farm policy to strengthen the safety net. Projected baseline farm safety net spending (which is the sum of farm programs, plus crop insurance, plus other disaster assistance) is $18.5 billion – that’s 47% below the most recent five years, and 32% below the 10 year average. By any historic measure, the cost of the farm safety net is down and well under control.
What the critics say: But what about the “spiraling” costs of crop insurance?
The Truth: Over the past 20 years, Congress has repeatedly voted to strengthen crop insurance, making it the cornerstone of the farm safety net. Crop insurance now protects more than 90% of planted farm acres and more than 130 crops in all regions of the U.S. It’s no surprise that the overall price tag has increased. However, going back 10 years, the projected price tag has only increased 12% while the acreage covered has increased 83%. That is nearly double the acreage covered with just a small increase in cost. Crop insurance is also a public-private partnership, which means that costs are shared between farmers, private-sector crop insurance companies, and the government. Farmers pay for crop insurance coverage, paying nearly $6.8 billion out of their own pockets last year and $6.8 billion again this year.
It’s worth noting that when EWG references “spiraling” costs, they’re talking about rising indemnities – “$2 billion up to a record $19.1 billion in 2022.” It’s important to understand that indemnities are how much is provided to farmers when they suffer the loss, but indemnities do not reflect the taxpayer cost. In 2022, $19.1 billion in indemnities were paid, but according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the total taxpayer costs for all insurance (premium discounts, risk sharing, delivery for all participating farms across the nation) was less than $8.5 billion. Over the past five years, indemnities to farm families have averaged $11 billion per year while the taxpayer investment has been a stable $8.2 billion.
What the critics say: Farm policy only benefits a small number of large farms.
The Truth: Every farmer plays a critical role in the farm economy, and current farm policy is designed to support all types of farms. But 84% of farms in the U.S. are small farms, where the farmers describe themselves as retired or hobby farmers, or the farmer only sells a very small amount of farm goods. This 84% share of farmers accounts for only about 10% of overall agricultural production. To say that these smaller producers are left out of farm policy would be yet another misstatement. The facts show that this group of farmers in 2021 alone accounted for 79% of Conservation Reserve Program payments, 21% of working-land conservation payments, 23% of pandemic assistance payments, and 11% of all other payments – which includes ARC, PLC, disaster payments, Dairy Margin Coverage, and ad hoc assistance like the Market Facilitation Program.
What the critics say: Increasing PLC reference prices would only help less than 6,000 rice, peanuts, and cotton farmers.
The Truth: This is classic EWG – trying to pit crops and regions against one another. It is simply untrue. PLC and ARC are the Title I options for major commodity producers (peanuts, cotton, rice, corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum, and others) and a higher reference price improves the formula for both PLC and ARC – no matter what you grow. In fact, current USDA projections for 2023 only project a PLC payment for one crop, rapeseed, that EWG doesn’t even mention in its misguided analysis. Perhaps this is why farm organizations for all these crops testified to the need to raise reference prices this year. Now, in an ideal world for farmers, market prices and production for all these crops would stay strong so that neither ARC nor PLC trigger, and the reference price would thus be irrelevant. But, turning back to CBO, where expected support is measured based on historical realities, payments are projected across all commodities based on current reference prices for ARC and PLC for the next 10 years.
What the critics say: Farm policy only benefits farmers who grow row crops, like corn or soybeans.
The Truth: Wait a second, I thought they just said that only rice, peanut, and cotton farmers benefit from the farm safety net?! Same tactic here, but now EWG is just trying to pit staple crops against specialty crops like fruits and vegetables. The markets for these crops are very different, and therefore so are the farm policy approaches. But this is an easy one to debunk. Look at crop insurance, which covers more than 130 different types of crops and is available to farmers large and small. There’s insurance coverage available if you farm organic, too.
What the critics say: Farmers are making money from crop insurance.
The Truth: We’ll let Kansas farmer John, who shared with NPR his experience with crop insurance after losing this year’s wheat crop to drought, answer this one for us: “Thank goodness for crop insurance. Crop insurance doesn’t make you money, it keeps you in business to plant again next year. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Hit us with some new ones, EWG. In the meantime, we’ll continue dismantling these #FarmPolicyFallacies because at the end of the day, America’s farmers and ranchers are making immense sacrifices every day to provide us with an affordable and abundant supply of food and keep our economy moving forward. It’s the least we can do to support them with smart farm policies and a strong Farm Bill that keeps the legacy of agriculture in America alive.