By Mike Barnett
Two cents. That’s what Americans invest per meal for a viable crop insurance program, the risk management tool used by farmers to protect themselves from the whims of Mother Nature.
That cost per meal—according to a news release by Crop Insurance in America—is derived from the Congressional Budget Office’s projected crop insurance program outlays, the Census Bureau’s projections of U.S. population, the Department of Commerce’s data on consumption spending on food, and the assumption that people eat three meals per day.
Some would call this two cents per meal a subsidy. I couldn’t argue against that, although I prefer to call it an investment.
I look at it this way. The risk in farming is so immense that premiums to insure crops are higher than any farmer could pay alone. That’s why the government stepped in during the 1990s to build a viable crop insurance program, partially discounting the premiums to encourage greater participation. Consumers are paying part of that discount that figures out to be about two cents a meal. What do we get out of it? The peace of mind that comes from stocked grocery shelves.
Texas experienced the most devastating one-year drought on record during 2011. If not for crop insurance, many Texas farmers would have failed or suffered crippling losses. Multiply Texas’ experience nationwide during the drought disaster of 2012 and you see why crop insurance is necessary for food security.
The purpose of crop insurance is not to make farmers whole. What it does, in case of disaster, is provide money so farmers can afford the huge input costs to put seed in the ground the next year. Because most carry crop insurance—despite back-to-back years of poor harvest because of weather disasters—farmers remained on the land. Most American food, thanks to crop insurance, is still planted here, not in Europe, Canada, Australia or South America.
A debate is currently raging in the U.S. House over a new farm bill. Although much of it centers on domestic food programs which make up 85 percent of the farm bill budget, attempts are being made to dismantle the crop insurance program.
If our country’s goal is to keep U.S. agriculture viable, these farm policy critics are wrong.
Two cents per meal. Six cents per day. Forty-two cents per week. It’s not a handout to farmers. It’s an investment in our families and our future.