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Crop insurance is good investment; claims of abuse overstated

I’ve covered agriculture for long enough and seen enough farm bills that did little to assure a secure, affordable and safe food supply, let alone provide adequate protection for farms and ranches, to be anything but cynical about any proposal the U.S. Congress offers to improve farm programs.

I have watched for more than three decades as Congress after Congress watered down farm laws to save a pittance out of the U.S. budget. I’ve witnessed an erosion of support, an unraveling of a safety net that never assured but made more possible that farmers could continue to stay on their land following disasters—natural or financial.

I’ve heard organizations, political aspirants, and ordinary consumers complain about what a sweet deal farmers receive with all those subsidies and opportunities to get paid for not growing crops. I’ve defended farm programs as an essential part of national security. It makes sense to maintain the ability to feed and clothe our citizens with home-grown products instead of relying on other countries for our sustenance.

So call me a cynic, but I was not surprised at the recent criticism of government subsidies that help farmers defray the cost of crop insurance. And I am not surprised that some in Congress propose to cut chunks out of those subsidies as part of the ham-fisted efforts at trimming the deficit.

It reeks of political posturing, a feeble attempt to curry favor with those who have little understanding and less concern for the contributions agriculture makes to the economic, social and defensive well-being of this country. It is ignorance personified.

For the past few years, since the 2008 farm law was enacted, farmers have relied more and more on crop insurance to get them through hard times—such as the devastating drought that currently extends into its third year across much of the Southwest. Crop insurance has replaced most ad hoc disaster bills that once provided a safety net.

The National Crop Insurance Services, Overland Park, Kan., reports farmers invested more than $4.1 billion to purchase more than 1.2 million crop insurance policies last year. Those policies protected 128 different crops on 281 million acres of planted land.

The National Crop Insurance Services also rejects the claims that farmers who buy crop insurance do so only to game the system, to capitalize on coverage instead of making a crop. And that, to my mind, is as big an insult to the integrity of farmers as I’ve ever heard. No one who has spent as much time as I have over the past 35 years listening to farmers, watching them anguish over the prospect of a lost crop and doing my best to tell their stories accurately, can give any credence to such a preposterous claim.

Are there farmers who take advantage of crop insurance? Without a doubt, as there are people who take advantage of food stamps, Social Security and tax dodges. Money lures the thief. But I’d also bet my best fly rod that the number of dishonest farmers pales in comparison with hooligans in corporations, politics, and self-righteous watchdog organizations. As a group, farmers are the most honest people I’ve ever known.

Farmers farm because they love it. They farm because they enjoy watching things grow. They farm because at harvest they can assess how well they did and adjust if necessary for the next crop.

They don’t farm for the opportunity to pick up a government check or an insurance indemnity and to claim otherwise is both irresponsible and grossly ignorant.

If there is one farm program that Congress should leave alone, it’s the small subsidies government pays for crop insurance. The cost is less than critics claim—$16 billion for 2012, not the $40 billion some critics claimed.

So why should farmers get help and not consumers buying homeowner or auto insurance?  They feed us. They clothe us. They keep us independent. It’s a good investment.

TAGS: Legislative
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