Kansas farmer sounds off on crop insurance and farm policy

Jun 6, 2014

Credit hutchpost.com

As our present multi-year drought grinds on and on, I’m beginning to wonder if we missed the point—by a country mile—in our current farm policy.

Yes, we farmers were able to beef up expenditures in crop insurance. And believe you me, crop insurance is dearly appreciated. But the bottom line is that while crop insurance supports farm income, it does little or nothing in solving  food security or energy security issues. In short, we are doing things to replace lost farm income, but what are we are doing  to guarantee our food supply or to replace the half of the wheat crop that is vanishing before our eyes?

In a recent conversation with Gary Friesen, manager of the Scott City Co-op, he pointed out that the co-op normally takes in more than 4 million bushels of wheat each year. “We could easily be just half of that this year. And that follows over a 30% reduction in 2013.”

Friesen goes on to say that this year’s fall crop outlook is even more troubling.

To me, current farm policy is applying a short term fix while ignoring a much more serious and entirely different long term problem.  We’ve got the right answer, but it’s for the wrong question.

Here’s the deal: why do we keep paying over and over and over again for the same crop losses year after year? Maybe we ought to take a large amount of that money and put it into research designed to defeat the causes for crop loss.  Then with less crop loss, we’d spend less on crop insurance.  And we’d have something to show for it in terms of higher grain production. As it is, all these annual crop insurance payments to farmers are nothing more than rent. At the end of the day, we have nothing . We need ownership and we need equity. We need to make an investment.

Our biggest cause for crop loss is drought. Give us more drought resistant varieties and hybrids, better salt tolerance, better pest resistance and help in making more efficient use of remaining irrigation water supplies.

Why do we need untold billions of dollars in crop insurance subsidies if we have better adapted varieties of wheat, for instance, that yield 4 to 5 bushels more per acre and that produce more crop residue—all in the face of drought?

My urban cousins, who already have a great deal of trouble understanding farm subsidies, could easily understand this and see the benefit in it to them. This is being seen in public doing the right thing.

What is wrong with reducing the amount of money we are paying for crop loss when we can cut those expenditures by addressing the real problem—not only reducing crop insurance payments, but keeping food prices low and reasonable at the same time?

As it is, the consumer-taxpayer gets it coming and going. They pay for crop insurance losses and resulting food price increases when production drops. That’s lose-lose, not win-win.

But is this what we’re doing? Hardly.

Gary Pierzynski, head of Kansas State University’s Agronomy Department, says he and other land-grant university scientists proposed taking a small portion of the reduction in Federal  direct payments to farmers to use for funding increases in ag research. “It went nowhere.”

KSU president Kirk Schultz is equally as frustrated with what’s happening on the state level. “Instead of increasing the investment in ag research, the State of Kansas is forcing cuts in our budget.”

John Floros, KSU Dean of the College of Agriculture, agrees. “In the last decade, dramatic budget cuts to the college have forced the reduction of 30 faculty positions and 60 Extension educators along with a 40% reduction in staff.”

A case in point is the current state Extension wheat specialist Jim Shroyer who will retire  in July. His position is “on hold” pending budget outcomes.

I’d like to end this on a positive note, but there isn’t any. What has happened to our ability to think independently,  to take the long view or to think beyond our own short term self interest? Drought or not, what we are doing is not good for business.   

Note:  Vance Ehmke farms in Lane County, Kansas.  

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