Crop insurance a concern with Farm Bill

Staff writer

It is going to be more difficult to pass a Farm Bill this year that puts a priority on crop insurance, since Kansas won’t be represented on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Mel Thompson, Ag Assistant to Sen. Pat Roberts.

“Pat Roberts tried to educate everyone on the importance of crop insurance,” Thompson said. “The senators in Michigan and Mississippi deal with different crops then we do in Kansas. They don’t depend on crop insurance like Kansas farmers do. It’s going to be a battle — and we don’t know who’s going to win in the end.”

The 2008 Farm Bill will expire on Sept. 30 after being extended — a move that was estimated to save $23 billion. But, according to Troy Dumler, Kansas State University ag economist, it has only saved the government $11 billion.

He said estimate show that over the next 10 years (2013-2022) the government will spend $969 billion on agriculture, which amounts to less than 1/10 of one percent of the budget.

But now, Congress is planning to start work “soon” on a 2013 bill — and officials guess that the 2013 Farm Bill will look extremely different from the one implemented in 2008.

“They’ve pretty much scrapped the whole thing,” Dumler said.

Roberts said that, in the creation of the 2008 Farm Bill, Sen. Roberts spent a great deal of time with Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), explaining to her how important crop insurance is to Kansas farmers.

“She didn’t understand because they deal with specialty crops in Michigan,” she said. “It was eye-opening for her to see everything that happens in Kansas.”

He said Roberts hopes what he shared with the committee in the past few years will still be imbedded in their minds, so that they’ll make decisions that are good for Kansans as well.

Meanwhile, Dumler said they do not really know what is going to come out of the Ag Committee, but he expects that they will make enterprise units permanent and establish units for irrigated and non-irrigated fields.

“In Kansas, you either pray for rain or you irrigate your fields,” he said. “But it won’t do much to help the local farmer, if severe weather hits. It’s not going to help to cover deep losses.”

Still, Dumler knows how important crop insurance is to farmers — especially after seeing how hard they were hit with severe weather in 2002, 2007, and 2011.

“Farmers depend on crop insurance,” he said. “It’s their safety net. This is an imperfect system. There are limitations to the program that could really limit the farmers from getting funding — like eligibility requirements and the $50,000 limit.”

Dumler said he doesn’t know what the Ag Committee will come up with for the next Farm Bill, but does know one thing: it will be different from the 2008 bill, and farmers will need to adjust their current practices in order to make a living.

“You’ve got to weigh what the market will bear and plant accordingly,” he said.

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