Coming off one of the most difficult years in recent memory, crop insurance industry leaders, congressmen and commodity group representatives highlighted the crucial role the insurance plays in the farm safety net and warned about the need to go on the offensive heading into debate over the next farm bill.
“No industry is as vulnerable to weather conditions than agriculture, said Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson. R-Pa. “And Lord knows we’ve had plenty of weather all across this country.”
He said crop insurance allows farmers to remain competitive and to continue farming.
“It’s one of the best examples of a public-private partnership that I’ve ever seen,” he said.
But Thompson, who seeking to become the top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee in the next Congress, encouraged crop insurance leaders to continue to reach out to lawmakers, both in Washington and back at home in their districts.
“With your help, we were able to fight off some ill-conceived amendments …….that targeted crop insurance,” Thompson said. “In the end, the 2018 farm bill took some steps to make crop insurance more effective and flexible for producers.”
But as important as the crop insurance program is, he said many farm safety net programs constantly “have a target on their backs.” That’s one reason Thompson and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., launched the bipartisan crop insurance caucus last year.
“I want to play offense rather sit back and play defense,” he said. “You should lean in on these members and let them know how important it is to sign up for this caucus. When the time comes to consider amendments, “we need to make sure we crush those efforts,” he said.
One of the challenges in educating new members of Congress is turnover of members. For example, from 2017-2018, 104 House members departed and it appears that about 20% leave annually, said Scott Graves, executive director of the American Association of Crop Insurers.
No matter who controls the House in the next election, “Recent history shows we need to be ready for change and a lot of it,” he added. “There’s a strong need for continued engagement.”
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Robert Guenther, senior vice president for public policy at United Fresh, explained how after the last election, he and his members targeted 100 new members of Congress and tracked their meetings with them during January and February.
“Lots of times, it was just 2-3 people in an office who had just arrived in Washington, D.C,” he said. It was a “soft touch” introduction that allowed United Fresh to introduce their issues and start building a relationship.
“It’s in Inevitable that by the time we get to the 2023 farm bill, there is going to be continuing churn of members who have never seen a new farm bill,” Guenther said.
Matt Schertz, minority staff director for the House Ag Committee, also suggested going into the next farm bill with an offensive posture and advocating for ways crop insurance can be improved. One area might be in coverage for regions of the country where disasters strike and wipe out wide swaths of production.
His boss and fellow panelist, Rep. Mike Conaway, agreed.
“Food security is a big deal,” Conaway said. “If we were relying simply on imported food, it would make our country less safe.”
Conaway was presented with the crop insurance industry's Distinguished Service Award in gratitude for his 16 years of outstanding service and dedication to both crop insurance and American agriculture as a whole.
Other speakers highlighted how the industry has grown as a result of the public-private partnership.
In 2019, crop insurance policies protected a record 380 million acres of land, or more than 90 percent of planted acres, according to Jim Korin, chairman of National Crop Insurance Services and president of NAU Country Insurance Company.
"Despite the financial challenges that rural America has faced over the past several years, farmers continue to invest in the reliable crop insurance products we provide," Korin said. "This is a testament to our industry's record of service as well as the trust farmers place in us to provide assistance with efficiency and integrity when disaster strikes."
Farmers purchased 1.1 million crop insurance policies, collectively paying $3.75 billion in premiums and shouldering more than $10 billion in deductibles. As of Feb. 10, the crop insurance industry has already paid more than $9.15 billion in crop insurance indemnities to help farmers cope with their losses, and this number is expected to grow as claims are finalized.
"The fact is, corn fields and cow herds can't survive on political promises," Korin said. "Farmers can't wait for politicians to fight over the details of what they deserve when their farm and their livelihood is on the line."
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