Last updated on 2013.06.03
Some dairy producers want federal insurance comparable to the subsidized insurance farmers get for crops. Congresswoman Kristi Noem, whose husband sells that crop insurance for a living, wants livestock producers to get a more reliable slurp at the federal teat as well.
White River rancher Eric Iversen explains how federal livestock insurance might ease the market disadvantage current ag policy causes him and fellow ranchers:
"It appears that revenue-based crop insurance is artificially inflating land values and rental rates," said Eric Iversen. "And in order for livestock producers to compete with neighboring crop farmers, maybe it’s time to introduce a revenue-based livestock insurance program. I’ve got a ‘proven yield’ on my pastures and can calculate how many pounds of live cattle have been produced off each acre for the past several years; why can’t I get the same coverage as the crop farmer who keeps production records?" [Carrie Stadheim, "Federally funded crop insurance affects entire ag industry," Tri-State Livestock News, 2013.05.23]
South Dakota School and Public Lands Commissioner Jarrod Johnson sees federal crop insurance driving producers to tear up good grazing land for short-term benefits at the expense of long-term land sustainability:
Johnson, whose agency oversees over 768,000 acres, with roughly two-thirds of their holdings west of the Missouri River, said he is approached more and more by leasees who request permission to break up native sod. He is concerned that producers are jumping in for a “short term gain potential” when nobody knows how long the subsidy will be available.
“We have ag leases and grazing leases,” he said, explaining that only the ag leases can be farmed. While the state agency has the ability to transition a grazing lease into an ag lease, there’s limited capabilities to change it back. The leasee wouldn’t be required to seed it back to grass if he decided that crop farming wasn’t lucrative, and even if Johnson’s office went to the legislature and found the funding to do it themselves, “You can’t just seed it to alfalfa and say ‘it’s ok now;’ you’ll never get the intricacies and synergies provided by native rangelands, back,” he said [Stadheim, 2013.05.23].
But before we go hog-wild creating more corporate-ag handouts, let's hear from former state ag secretary and legislator Larry Gabriel, who's back at the ranch making a living the old-fashioned way, without government handouts. He'll probably catch heck from fellow Republicans for traveling around the world to learn stuff, but he points to New Zealand as a better model for ag policy than Noem's plan for increased government dependence:
“Some say they’ve got to do the same thing for livestock, but I say, two wrongs don’t make a right. I’m a rancher, I don’t buy crop insurance. I don’t believe the retired school teacher should subsidize my operation. When I was the secretary of agriculture, I argued that we [the government] should continue crop insurance for beginning farmers and ranchers, pay the current rate of 62 percent for first 10 years, then 40 percent for next 10 years, then farmers should be able to go on their own after that,” Gabriel still be believes this strategy for insurance would be adequate. “We were in New Zealand a year ago, and the farmers were proud that they have no government programs; they farm for the market. They try to be studious of what the market signals are telling them. They’ve learned that they need to react to what the market is telling them and if they don’t they will go out of business,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said that when the New Zealand government got into a serious debt problem, not unlike the U.S. financial situation, they cut almost all of their government farm subsidies. “Some of the big farmers had to sell a bunch of their land and young people came in and bought some and they have a thriving, healthy ag economy now,” he said [Stadheim, 2013.05.23].
New Zealand eliminated farm subsidies in 1984. Their experience supports what Gabriel and my liberal farmer friend Charlie Johnson say: take subsidies away from the big players, and you'll see young farmers and small farmers thrive. If Kristi Noem were a real conservative, she'd embrace that free-market/conservationist/liberty policy and advocate for less federal support of agriculture, not more