By Maria Miller, NFU director of education
“I’m looking forward to this farm year ending,” a Farmers Union member from the Midwest wrote to me this week. “It’s my worst year ever in farming. Crop insurance should get me through to next spring, but let’s hope something changes or I’ll be history.”
He went on to describe his crop as a “total failure.” His combine will not leave the barn. The family’s best corn field was appraised at six bushels per acre. That’s pretty good considering nearly everything else appraised at less than a bushel. That’s like telling someone who gets a regular paycheck to expect a pay cut of 95 percent.
We needed this member on Capitol Hill earlier this month when NFU coordinated farmer visits with lawmakers who will soon be voting on the next farm bill. This farmer couldn’t make it to the event but hundreds of other farmers and ranchers from across the country represented him and others like him during our fall grassroots (or should I say “cornroots”) effort in DC.
I wondered if he and others like him are going to be in the “hot seat” next spring if he goes to his lender to explain why he can’t pay off his operating loan. He had all the high input costs, but reaped no revenue. Oh, I remember those days all too well. That’s why I joined Farmers Union. Because someone had to be my collective voice when I wasn’t available to tell my story. Many years ago my neighbor, a farmer, pulled into our driveway and told us how this organization was different. Farmers Union looked out for families and individuals who farmed and supported those who saw their value — like my grandfather who managed the local agricultural cooperative. I realized Farmers Union shared my way of thinking. I proudly wore the “No Farmers. No Food” button on my lapel when I taught ag literacy programs and volunteered to speak to scouts about where food comes from. Increasingly, people don’t make the connection between the farmer, the food and why a farm bill works for consumers as well as farmers.
The next farm bill is more important than ever. It needs to offer protection for farmers against significant losses due to weather-related disasters, astronomically high input costs and devastatingly low prices. Federally backed risk management products have to be affordable. If a farmer just worked all year without getting paid, he or she doesn’t have the money to obtain risk management tools such as crop insurance that isn’t subsidized to reduce the premium.
I’ve been to more than a dozen Farmers Union fly-ins since I joined the organization. I volunteered at my local chapter as an officer because I believe in supporting organizations that support me. Regardless of crop or geographic region, regardless of whether she or he has farmed for decades or only a few couple years, economic risk management products must be made available for all to protect against changes in the cost of crop production.
When some spokespeople refer to aggregate farm income being healthy or ag trade setting records or high crop prices, it makes it seem as if farming is doing well everywhere. But if you don’t have a crop to sell, you are not making money. And if you do have a crop to sell, you have pay off your bills before you make a profit (an income).
My friend who wrote me about his crop disaster couldn’t make it to the fly-in, but he can still tell his story to policy makers. They need to hear it straight from the farmer that we need a permanent disaster program to assist producers during times like these. Natural disasters could use a farm-level trigger for payments in times of disaster, which would accurately reflect local growing conditions and yields. We need a safety net, so the pin I’ll wear next won’t be “No Farm Bill. No Farmer. Now What?”
Maria Miller says she “has the privilege” of working for the National Farmers Union, first at state and now at the national level. She currently serves as director of education and says she still carries a Farmers Union membership application in her back pocket wherever she goes. Call or email your representatives to share your story.