Crop insurance is vital to farmers.
That, loud and clear, was the message Kansas farmers and agribusiness leaders gave Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) at a field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill on Aug. 25.
Witnesses at the hearing, held at the Airport Hilton in Wichita, said they understand that there are budget problems and that some programs will be reduced or eliminated. They are willing to do their part – but no more than their part – to get the country's fiscal house in order, they said.
All 17 witnesses put a strong, affordable crop insurance program at the top of their list of priorities, even while pointing out that direct payments also play a critical role in the overall safety net, providing a baseline of income that beginning farmers and those challenged by multiple years of natural disaster can rely on to obtain operating loans.
Karl Esping, chairman of the Kansas Sunflower Commission and a board member of the National Sunflower Association, is a fifth generation farmer/stockman from McPherson County.
"As you look at priorities in this new Farm Bill, please consider that producers still need a safety net for crop failure and disaster. Crop insurance has been and still is the best tool for these situations … I encourage the committee to continue the flexibility currently found in federal crop insurance," he said.
Esping also said he is concerned about reports that the Risk Management Association is considering changing its rules to make a crop following sunflowers uninsurable. He said that would take sunflowers out of the Kansas crop rotation.
Kent Goyen, a fourth generation Century Farmer and producer delegate to the National Cotton Council, said crop insurance is an essential risk management tool. He rated the market loan program high on the list of federal programs that upland cotton growers have relied upon to help generate important reforms such as standardized bales, electronic warehouse recepits and heightened standards for warehousing and shipping,
Kansas Soybean Association board member Bob Henry called crop insurance a "vital part of the farm income safety net for soybean farmers." He said his organization would like to see it modified to reflect the lower return per area and higher input costs for soybean production.
Ken McCauley, who farms with his wife and son in northeast Kansas, is a past president of the National Corn Growers Association. He told the senators that a farm income safety net is vital and there is no "one size fits all" for Kansas because of the widely divergent growing conditions from east to west.
He said Kansas corn farmers purchased crop insurance for more than 4 million acres of corn – about 80% of the crop.
"Weather her is undependable with droughts, storms, hail and win," he said. "That's why Kansas farmers rely on a strong and viable crop insurance program."
David Schemm, president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, said he has seen no better example than this year of why a strong safety net is essential.
"Farmers planted just under 9 million acres, with high hopes of being able to take advantage of good prices," he said. "Unfortunately, Mother Nature had different ideas and many areas of our state received less rain over the past 12 months than they did in the dust bowl days of the Great Depression."
Greg Shelor, president of the Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association, told the senators he routinely faces two questions from his banker: Do you have crop insurance and what do you anticipate in direct payments?
"My ability to secure annual operating loans depends directly upon the stability of farm programs," he said.
Shelor reminded the lawmakers that sorghum is a naturally drought tolerant crop and an effective feedstock to replace corn in ethanol plants, giving it significant opportunity for future growth. But because it is a dryland crop, he stressed, effective risk management tools for conditions like those of the past summer are critical.
Tomorrow: The Conservation Title is why the Great Plains are not currently in a dust bowl.