When most Americans walk into grocery stores, we generally expect the shelves to be well-stocked with bread, milk, fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken and so much more. Although, many of us have that expectation, many also don’t have the realization, nor the appreciation, for all of the hard work done and challenges faced by farmers and ranchers across our country to get those agricultural products out of the fields, into the stores, and, ultimately, onto our kitchen tables. One of the ways we can bolster that agriculture productivity and buttress our food security is by better supporting our commitment to the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
In Oklahoma, you don’t have to travel far to understand how important farming and agriculture is to our state. We are the second-largest beef-cow-producing state in the country and the fourth-largest wheat producing state. Oklahoma is also home to over 86,000 farms, 96 percent of which are family owned, covering 35 million acres.
In California, despite our reputation for being a leader in technology in the Silicon Valley, it’s the Salinas Valley, Central Valley, and many of our other valleys that make the state the No. 1 agriculture producer in the nation. On the Central Coast, otherwise known as the “Salad Bowl of the World” we grow over 100 specialty crops, supplying much of the nation’s lettuce, garlic, artichokes, berries and more.
Although the crops produced in our two districts are vastly different, the issues that our agricultural constituents face are very much the same. At this exact moment, however, those challenges are growing on multiple fronts. The farmers and ranchers across our country need our support now more than ever due to forces of unpredictability well beyond their control.
It starts with increasingly threatening weather patterns. 2021 was a year of weather extremes with wildfires and droughts in the West, uncharacteristic frigid temperatures in the South, flooding in the East, destructive tornadoes in the Midwest, hurricanes in the Southeast, and heat waves in the Northwest. Crops across the country were badly damaged by the adverse weather and this made tough times even tougher for farmers and ranchers. As the climate becomes more unsettled, so do the livelihoods of the farmers and ranchers.
Beyond just the weather, farmers and ranchers are also coping with a host of other challenges including increasing demand, enduring supply chain issues, rising inflation, shrinking international markets due to backlogs at our ports, expanding labor shortages at every level of production, and a persistent pandemic. Both of us are fortunate to personally know the farmers and ranchers in our respective districts. They work hard, they love their families, they give back to our communities, and they are passionate about providing the products vital to everyday Americans. To ensure that they can continue providing all of us with a reliable, affordable food supply, we must protect and enhance the Federal Crop Insurance Program.
The Federal Crop Insurance Program is the cornerstone of risk management for agriculture production, protecting farmers and ranchers against loss due to natural disasters or the loss of revenue due to price declines. We’ve seen in our districts how imperative and valuable crop insurance is to agricultural communities.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), in 2020 a record 398 million acres of farmland were enrolled in crop insurance covering $114 billion worth of crops. Under the Federal Crop Insurance Program, farmers help fund their own safety net, collectively spending $3.5 billion to $4 billion a year for coverage. Producers also shoulder a portion of losses before receiving aid.
Additionally, crop insurance is critical to the rural economy because, without it, many producers simply cannot qualify for the operating loans needed to plant a crop. If farmers and ranchers are forced to shut down operations, the food shortages and higher prices that we are currently seeing at our local grocery stores will only get worse. Crop insurance provides the critical support to guarantee that farmers and ranchers can keep producing, even in the face of big challenges.
Since its inception, crop insurance has been a bipartisan program that has relied on leadership from both political parties. We both work closely with organizations that advocate for farmers and ranchers, like the American Association of Crop Insurers (AACI), which consistently educates our colleagues in Congress on the significant need for crop insurance. Moreover, we are encouraging the RMA to continue working with industry stakeholders to create new crop insurance options for specialty crop and organic producers, while also expanding and improving current options for traditional commodity crops. The more collaboration between producers and policymakers and shared information about the different crops grown and the many challenges confronting our farmers, the better we can advocate for crop insurance improvements to be authorized in the 2023 Farm Bill.
As a current member and a former chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, we have long been champions of our American farmers and ranchers and will continue to do everything in our power to protect them, their livelihoods, and future generations of family-owned farms. Congress can lend the same level of support by continuing to provide adequate resources for farm programs, specifically crop insurance. Some grocery shoppers may not know about it, but our farmers, ranchers, and, ultimately, our families sure are depending on it.
Congressman Frank Lucas is a fifth generation Oklahoman whose family has lived and farmed in Oklahoma for more than a century. He currently serves as the ranking member on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the longest serving Republican on the House Committee on Financial Services.
Congressman Jimmy Panetta is dedicated to public service and proudly serves California’s 20th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district includes Monterey and San Benito Counties, and parts of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Counties. First elected 2016, he currently serves on the House Ways and Means, House Agriculture, and House Armed Services Committees.
This commentary originally appeared in The Hill.