Week after week, I write about what the public does not get right about agriculture and food production. From biotechnology, to animal care, to environmental impact, the vast majority of the American public is clueless about where its food comes from, how it is produced, and what role farmers play in the whole process. But, finally, there is one issue that the public gets right.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans have a favorable view of farmers, and 92 percent said it was important to provide them with federal funding, according to a new national poll. This is an important finding since the public’s view of farmers and support for crop insurance are critical policy issues. Budget-cutting bureaucrats and anti-agriculture activists have long mounted attacks on crop insurance in an effort to derail the program. When crop insurance replaced direct payments in the 2014 Farm Bill as the backbone of the farm safety net program, liberals and urban lawmakers started trying to chip away at its funding to get more federal dollars for federal food assistance and social programs.
The survey shows that the concept of farmers and the federal government both contributing to an insurance policy makes sense. “Americans overwhelmingly like farmers and support the programs that protect them,” explained Jon McHenry, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, the polling firm that explored the general public’s views on farmers, farm policy, and crop insurance. “This response is not surprising when you consider that eight in 10 voters believe a vibrant agricultural industry was critical to the country’s national security.” More than 70 percent of voters also said they believed that farmers should help fund part of their own safety net. This cost-sharing structure is at the heart of America’s crop insurance policy with farmers paying a portion of their insurance premiums and shouldering, on average, 25 percent of crop losses through deductibles.
What the survey did not ask, and what I believe most consumers do not understand, is why crop insurance is so important to farmers. Few outside of agriculture understand the tremendous risk growers take when producing a crop. Furthermore, they do not understand how that risk impacts the food supply. Critics are quick to decry subsidies for agriculture without understanding what the lack of those subsidies would do to the food supply and price. Crop insurance helps producers manage risk and insures consistent food supply and cheap food prices.
In the early 1990s, less than 30% of farm acreage was insured, and farmers were vulnerable to risk. Having been stung by $70 billion worth of disaster assistance bills since 1989, lawmakers needed to find a way to boost crop insurance participation. Expanding coverage, keeping premiums low, and eliminating disaster assistance programs has increased crop insurance participation. Today, 90% of acres are covered, taxpayer-funded bailout packages are a thing of the past, and farmers get assistance quickly when they need it thanks to private-sector efficiency.
The fact that most people get the basic concept of crop insurance is reassuring, and the fact that they say they support farmers isn’t bad either. Now that we have the public convinced, we just have to get to those clowns in the Beltway.
By Gary Truitt