By Mike Southcott
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) has been a great advocate for the needy and for healthy eating, and it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that she’s doing everything she can to ensure that federal support for food stamp benefits are fully funded. Unfortunately, to pay for her recent amendment, she’s cutting the only viable risk management tool available to the very New York farmers who grow healthy food for the poor: crop insurance.
Crop insurance is a private-public partnership that has worked miracles in serving as a backstop to farmers and ranchers after disaster strikes, as it did last year here at home. Farmers purchase crop insurance, which is partially underwritten by federal government, so that when Mother Nature serves up a nasty surprise, there is something in place to ensure that come next year, farmers will be able to plant yet again and feed America.
2011 was a tough year for many of our areas farmers. Tropical Storm Irene hit right as farmers were harvesting their crops, wiping out an entire year’s work for many as their fields were swallowed under several feet of water. New York farmers growing apples, corn, grapes, peas and peaches, as well as many other crops, suffered enormous losses and thankfully collected nearly $45 million in indemnity payments from their private crop insurance policies.
And 2012 has already presented its challenges to our local farmers, as many in the Hudson Valley and the western part of the state lost some or their entire apple and other fruit crops to a late spring freeze. Thankfully, again, crop insurance was there to keep them from losing their farms. In fact, for those who argue that Americans, especially the disadvantaged, need to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, crop insurance is the only viable safety net available to farmers who grow that produce.
As a crop insurance agent and a businessman, I can fully understand the government’s need to balance its books, which means making hard choices. But the cuts must be made with precision, and must be fair. Crop insurance – which today covers more than 128 commodities – has stood alone among all agriculture programs in already taking deep cuts. Funding reductions to the tune of $12 billion since 2008 have left crop insurance incredibly lean and incapable of meeting its challenges if further reductions are made.
During the debate on the Farm Bill in both the House and the Senate, farmers of all sizes and shapes, testified that crop insurance was their top priority and urged Congress to “do no harm” to these policies. And with actual outlays on farm programs roughly equal to about one half of one percent of federal spending, that request seems reasonable.
But, Senator Gillibrand’s well-intentioned amendment would do considerable harm to crop insurance and by extension, farmers and ranchers in our state.
Simply put, crop insurance cannot withstand the consequences of this amendment and still operate the way Congress demands or farmers and ranchers deserve.
Money for nutrition programs is important and it can be found, but while we shouldn’t be taking food out of the hands of the poor, likewise we shouldn’t be taking the tools out of the hands of New York family farmers who grow our food.
Mike Southcott is a crop insurance agent based in Albion, New York.
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