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Crop insurance: No good deed goes unpunished

When the levees broke and the floodwaters came rushing toward many Midwest towns, government officials asked me to make an enormous sacrifice.

They needed soil from 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. But saying yes also meant centuries offertile soil would be removed from my farm, essentially ruining everything my family had worked for and guaranteeing I’d have to start over.

Sacrificing my farm was an easy decision. It was the right thing to do. And after a long conversation with my crop insurance agent, I knew that I’d at least have a chance to pick up the pieces when the waters receded.

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

All told, more than $15 billion in spending was sacrificed, and ironically, more than $12 billion of that came from the crop insurance system that is in place to guard against things like floods. Crop insurance, which is purchased by individual farmers with some backing from the government and is serviced by efficient private companies, has become our most important risk management tool.

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.

As the Farm Bill moves to the Senate floor in June, some lawmakers are planning to propose amendments that will further reduce spending and weaken the crop insurance infrastructure even more.

These agriculture opponents will deliver polished statements on C-SPAN about giant agribusinesses, and about insurance companies making too much money. They won’t mention that on top of the cuts already made to crop insurance, these new amendments could be the beginning of the end of our most important farm-saving program.

Any amendment that jeopardizes insurance participation—whether it be arbitrary caps on benefits, means testing, or new mandated environmental regulations—will harm any grower with an insurance policy in place. That’s because insurance policies, like auto insurance policies, are interlinked. Premiums paid by less risky growers helps make insurance possible for riskier producers.

Without an adequate pool of insured participants, the whole system could collapse, making it harder to secure insurance policies or to quickly collect indemnities when disaster strikes.

Not to mention, when commodity prices are strong and premiums go up, even moderate-size full-time farms could be pushed out of the insurance system by the caps Congress is considering.

For example, I farm 1,000 acres to make ends meet, and the caps being discussed would’ve hit me last year.

My insurance coverage would have been inadequate, and after losing 80percent of my crop to flooding, chances are I would not have been able to bounce back to plant in 2012. I am not getting rich from crop insurance; I am surviving because of crop insurance.

Of course, lawmakers aren’t the only ones taking shots at farmers right now. For the past two years, President Barack Obama has proposed hacking billions more out of crop insurance.

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

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

Enough is enough. Agriculture must hold its ground and actively oppose outsized cuts, starting with anti-crop insurance amendments to the Farm Bill. We support deficit reduction -- again, we are among the few who have already sacrificed—but we should not have to shoulder it all.

Elected officials must stop the assault on rural America. If they don’t, the next time we’re asked to sacrifice for the towns around us, we might not have the backstop in place to make it possible.

About the author: Michael Woltemath is a fourth-generation grower who has actively farmed for 16 years and owns a farm adjacent to the Hamburg levee in Iowa.

This article was submitted to Agriculture.com by David Ray, North Bridge Communications, on behalf of the National Crop Insurance Services, which represents the U.S. Crop insurance industry.

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