As Senate Farm Bill heads to vote, now's the time to reform crop insurance

Well, this is it. The Senate Ag Committee’s version of the 2012 Farm Bill is up for a floor vote the week of June 4, and boy does it need an overhaul before it’s finalized. The biggest area in need of reform is the massive giveaway of $95 billion over the next 10 years through federally subsidized crop insurance. Crop insurance is an important and needed farm program. But, as we’ve reported in this blog before, it has grown into a mega-ag boondoggle in recent years. To learn how you can get the message to our Minnesota Senators that crop insurance reform is needed now, click here.

Publicly subsidized crop insurance is a critical tool for family farmers who want to manage risk related to natural disasters and extreme weather. But as currently conceived and delivered, it is concentrating land ownership in the hands of the few while damaging our soil, water and other natural resources.

The Senate Ag Committee’s version of the new Farm Bill threatens to only make things worse by largely replacing direct payments to farmers with even larger crop insurance premium subsidies. As the Star Tribune reported today, taxpayers provided at least $94 million to cover the crop insurance premiums of Minnesota farmers in 2011. One agribusiness growing corn and soybeans in eight Minnesota counties collected almost $1.7 million in publicly funded insurance premiums last year. (The data was collected by the Environmental Working Group through a Freedom of Information Act request, but the government would not give EWG the names of individual farmers or businesses; apparently revealing who actually receives millions of dollars in tax money is a military secret).

The current Senate Farm Bill threatens to make crop insurance an even bigger threat to our land and communities:

  • It has NO limits on the amount of premium subsidies individual producers can receive.
  • There are NO adjusted gross income limits or limits that say millionaires can’t receive the subsidies.
  • There are NO conservation requirements.
  • There are NO standards to determine if those who claim to be farmers are indeed really farmers.

As the Star Tribune‘s Jim Spencer put it, “Under the proposed farm bill, insurance subsidies will continue to be offered without regard to wealth.” All other farm programs include limits in an attempt to better target federal dollars and to try and reduce fraud and abuse. Why should crop insurance be any different? Does calling it “insurance” somehow mean it should be exempted from accountability?

Limits are particularly key for a program that has quietly evolved into one of the biggest farm program users of tax dollars in recent years while becoming a chief mechanism for land to be gobbled up by the biggest crop producers at the expense of family farmers and our natural resources.

The good news is U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, will offer an amendment that attempts to rein in the costs and big giveaways in crop insurance. Details are still being ironed out, but overall it’s a good amendment and desperately needed. Of course, it faces stiff opposition because commodity groups, corporate insurance companies and even the big banking sector—all of whom benefit from the current boondoggle—have lined up to oppose any reforms to crop insurance.

That’s why family farmers and citizens who care about our food and farming system need to weigh in on this issue. Where are Minnesota Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken on this? In our communications with these offices, they have not said specifically how they would vote on crop insurance reforms. Give them a call and let them know now’s the time to stand up for fiscal responsibility and a crop insurance program that does what it was created to do: provide a basic, common sense safety net for farmers.

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