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Our View: Congress should pass farm bill

Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

As farmers become entrenched in planting season, they are hoping a crop of another kind sprouts in Washington, D.C.

That would be the Farm Bill, the federal legislation that sets the country’s farm and food policy, usually for at least five years at a time. It expired last year, but was extended for nine months when financial concerns took precedence.

The Farm Bill is not only for farmers: The Congressional Research Service reports that when enacted, the 2008 Farm Bill had mandatory costs of $284 billion over five years. Of that, $22 billion, or 8 percent, was for crop insurance, while $189 billion, or 67 percent was for nutrition programs, including food stamps.

It’s imperative a new bill is passed and soon. Farmers cannot plan for the future if they don’t know how the system will operate. Given the importance of farming in our country, getting a bill that lasts for years, not months, is essential.

An aspect of the bill many are keeping an eye on is crop insurance, which is purchased by farmers to protect against the loss of crops because of natural disasters or loss of revenue because of price fluctuations.

Crop insurance is important. But in the new bill, lawmakers should ensure farmers are paying more of the premium on crop insurance than taxpayers.

In 2008, the total premium cost in the U.S. for crops was $9.85 billion, according to the USDA. Of that, the farmer-paid premium share was $4.17 billion, and subsidies were $5.68 billion. In 2012, estimated total premiums were $11.15 billion; of that, the farmer-paid premium was $4.15 billion, while subsidies were $7 billion.

DeKalb County farmers have done a better job of paying their way, records show. From 1995-2011, the government had expenses of $55.6 million for crop insurance in DeKalb County, and farmer premiums contributed $49.2 million during that time frame. That was almost 90 percent of the total cost, with the government making up the $6.7 million difference, according to the Environmental Working Group. That organization maintains a farm subsidy database with information it received from the USDA under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, nationally, government is paying more for farmers’ crop insurance than farmers are themselves. We have asked in recent months for others – such as members of public unions – to pay more of the share of benefits they receive.

The same holds true for farmers. They should have some financial assurance when fickle Mother Nature causes havoc, but they should not expect the taxpayers to pick up the majority of the cost.

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