Crop insurance kerfuffle is latest example of why grassroots action is so important

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director

Crop insurance as we know it came dangerously close to ending this week. But thanks to the grassroots efforts of farmers — many of them here in Minnesota and members of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association — it looks like crop insurance will survive.

Farmers purchase crop insurance to guard against the many risks of farming, which include natural disaster, drought, hail, wind and other weather and market-related risks. A last-minute deal was struck behind closed doors earlier this week that would have cut $3 billion over 10 years from the crop insurance program in order to boost defense and domestic program spending increases and pass an overall budget.

The cuts would have had a devastating effect on crop insurance companies and farmers.

Budget deal reached, crop insurance saved
Thankfully, it appears that lawmakers have reached a deal to save crop insurance: a budget was passed by Congress on Wednesday that included the crop insurance cuts, but we now have an agreement with all House leaders that these cuts will be stripped out at a later date and the savings needed will NOT come from agriculture. The deal earned the approval of ranking Democrat Collin Peterson from Minnesota and other House agriculture committee leadership.

We anticipate a similar deal in the Senate, however, we want to make sure the deal is ironclad so we continue to carefully monitor the situation.

Both Peterson and Minnesota Congressman Tom Emmer signed a letter earlier this week expressing their opposition to the budget deal if it included the damaging cuts to crop insurance. We appreciate all the efforts by the Minnesota House and Senate delegation who helped strip out these damaging cuts.

Grassroots efforts
So, how did crop insurance go from on the chopping block to saved in the span of less than a few days? Good ‘ol fashion grassroots action.

Farmers throughout rural America sent emails, made phone calls or personally reached out to their congressional representatives to make it known just how important crop insurance is to their way of life. Congressional offices lit up with correspondence from farmers expressing their frustration at the cuts (which, by the way, were never discussed with the Agriculture committee).

Here in Minnesota, hundreds of farmers contacted their representatives using an online system set up by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA). MCGA farmer-leaders and staff also personally contacted Minnesota’s congressional delegation to make it clear how important crop insurance is to our state’s agricultural sector.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but we made sure our voices were heard. Lawmakers listened, and crop insurance appears to be safe. For now…

Ongoing effort
This isn’t the first time crop insurance has come under attack and it won’t be the last. Since 2008, roughly $17 billion has been cut from federal crop insurance. Actually, agriculture has been the source for billions of dollars in taxpayer savings recently. In 2014, farm group leaders and Congress produced a bi-partisan farm bill that saved $23 billion.

Yet crop insurance and other agriculture programs remain in the cross-hairs. And it’s probably going to stay that way for a while. Fact is, less than 1 percent of the population farms. Representation in Congress from farm and rural areas continues to shrink. Many lawmakers view agriculture as an easy target.

That’s why our grassroots efforts need to remain strong at all times, not just in times of crisis. It was great to see so many farmers stand up and speak out these last couple of days. Now let’s keep our voices loud, even after the crop insurance and budget noise dies down.

Grassroots action is much more effective when it’s an ongoing effort. If you’re a farmer or involved in any way in agriculture, contact your congressman or senator regularly to touch base on important issues. Attend local meetings and offer your point of view from an agricultural perspective. Use social media to speak out on important farming issues (in addition to posting cool harvest photos and cute pictures of your kids in the combine, of course).

A lot of work to do
Just in the last year, Minnesota corn farmers have been confronted with several major legislative challenges. Cuts to the Renewable Fuel Standard, the Waters of the United State proposed rule, buffer legislation, and threats to crop insurance are a few major examples.

I expect the legislative challenges to keep coming. I say that not to try and scare anyone, but to emphasize just how important it is for farmers to remain engaged and active at the grassroots level.

We need your voice. It makes a difference. This week’s reversal on crop insurance is proof that your voice can be heard if you make it loud enough.

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