Farmer Doug Wilson has been buying crop insurance since 1980.
“You carry home insurance, hoping your house doesn’t burn down. We carry crop insurance, hoping our crops don’t burn down,” Wilson said on a sweltering day in mid-August as he walked among the healthy 8-foot corn stalks in one his fields in central Illinois. “But last year, they burned down — kind of literally.”
Farmers work at the mercy of three big forces that are largely outside their control, the weather, the markets, and the government.
In many parts of the country the first two are doing pretty well these days, but government remains the wild card. Congress can’t seem to pass the farm bill, a huge package of legislation setting food policy for years to come.
The farm bill being discussed in the U.S. House of Representatives contains legislation having to do with all aspects of how Americans put food on their dinner tables. About 80 percent of the bill deals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), what we often call “food stamps.” Other portions of the legislation, though, address policy governing the farms that create this food.
Crop insurance is a big part of the farm bill debate in Washington this year. The Senate recently passed a bill that would expand the heavily subsidized program. And now the House is zeroing in on the issue.
Several pending amendments would curb how much the government provides to cut the cost farmers pay for crop insurance. But, crop insurance premiums aren’t the only part of the system supported by tax payers.
Taxpayers are contributing billions more than necessary for farmers’ crop insurance, according to a new report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
The study, which examined the 2012 crop year, argues that big subsidies channel farmers into lavish policies that in some cases paid drought-afflicted farmers last year more than they would have earned with a good harvest.