America and the World Need a Strong Farm Bill

Meet Chris Adams

Chris Adams manages many risks with his family on their farm in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Farmers understand that rain, drought, cold, heat, wind, insects and fickle markets are some of the challenges faced every day. But there are risks coming from 1,400 miles away in Washington, D.C., too.

Decisions made in Washington this year will directly impact Chris and most farmers across the country. For one, the Farm Bill will determine what types of tools Chris has to manage potential risks – ranging from severe weather to commodity price swings.

Infrastructure legislation also could help him more efficiently move his crops from his farm, down the Mississippi River and on to markets around the world. Strong trade opportunities would create and maintain export markets to help him continue growing the family’s operation. Chris also depends on AgCountry Farm Credit Services for reliable, consistent credit and financial services.

So, while Chris keeps an eye on the weather, plans for the next crop year and monitors the commodity markets, he also will closely monitor what happens in Washington.

Since 1916, Farm Credit has supported rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services. As a nationwide network of 73 cooperative financial institutions, we provide loans and related financial services to U.S. farmers and ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural homebuyers, agribusinesses and rural infrastructure providers.

The Farm Bill – Providing Stability and a Safety Net for American Agriculture

Congress needs to pass a strong Farm Bill.

The Farm Bill is a bipartisan piece of legislation – a rarity these days – that creates efficient programs that yield strong rural economies and provide food stability in our country.

Rural communities and agriculture rely on the Farm Bill. It helps farmers and ranchers around the country determine the types of tools they can use to manage risks and stay competitive while feeding our country and the world.

One risk management tool that farmers rely on heavily is crop insurance.

Tim Ostroski, a dairy farmer from Sterling, Michigan, is all-too-familiar with the importance of risk management tools. Like many dairy farmers, Tim grows his own corn. This helps him control some of his input costs while providing quality feed for his cows, which ultimately ensures quality milk.

In 2016, 13 inches of rain washed out some of his 750 acres. Later in the summer, two hail storms knocked down fields of his corn. Then the rain stopped and drought reduced the yield on his corn even more. Fortunately, Tim bought crop insurance through Greenstone Farm Credit Services before a single seed went in the ground. That safety net mitigated his financial loss, allowing him to buy additional corn to feed his cows.

Tim’s experience underscores why Congress created the crop insurance system: to promote the economic stability of agriculture. It is a successful public-private partnership that is federally regulated and delivered by the private sector to help farmers maintain the country’s safe, affordable food supply.

Crop insurance protects farmers and ranchers against financial losses caused by natural disasters and market disruptions resulting in lower prices for agricultural products. In 2017, 1.1 million federal crop insurance policies covered 551 different crop types or crop combinations on approximately 311 million acres of farmland with an insured value of more than $106 billion.

Willie Hernandez appreciates the range of coverage options available, especially for his cotton crop. A customer-owner of Farm Credit of New Mexico, he has successfully farmed for 39 years in Berino, New Mexico, and carefully manages his risk. Over the years, hail and wind have significantly damaged his crop – not to mention when hungry jackrabbits attacked his cotton. Crop insurance has been his safety net.

Without crop insurance, farmers like Tim and Willie would experience devastating losses that could threaten their businesses after just one or two bad years.

Farm Credit, and nearly all other lenders, strongly encourage, if not require, risk mitigation tools like crop insurance.

Fifteen private insurance companies sell these policies, share in the risk, collect premiums and pay claims quickly. To help make the policies affordable for farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers premium discounts to producers, sets the premium rates and helps reinsure the 15 private companies.

As Congress begins consideration of the Farm Bill, particularly after several years of declining farm income, an affordable crop insurance program is more critical than ever. Changes to the program that would decrease farmer participation are especially dangerous.

If anything, Congress should increase the coverage options for specialty and niche crops while continuing to offer coverage for traditional commodities and ensuring its affordability for farmers.

It’s Time to Rebuild Rural Infrastructure

Dan Kelley grows corn and soybeans on 3,400 acres near Normal, Illinois, with his two brothers, son and nephew. Like most American farmers, they operate very efficiently. Improvements in technology and crop science allow the Kelleys to use fewer inputs than the previous generation to produce record amounts of food, while still engaging in rigorous conservation efforts.

That efficiency is the competitive advantage our farmers have. It is how Dan competes in an increasingly complicated global marketplace. And, Dan is constantly looking for more innovative efforts to improve his operation.

That efficiency cannot stop at the farm gate.

Our country’s deteriorating rural infrastructure poses significant challenges to Dan and agriculture in general.

Highways, bridges, railways, locks and dams, harbors and port facilities all need major investment. One-quarter of our road system’s bridges require significant repair, or cannot efficiently handle today’s traffic. Many of the 240 locks and dams along the inland waterways – the transportation system Dan uses to get his corn and soybeans from Illinois to a processing facility or to coastal ports for export – are in need of modernization.

Transportation infrastructure is only one area in need of improvement. Aging rural water and wastewater facilities need updates to continue providing clean water for families. Rural communities depend on high-speed internet access to connect to the rest of the world. Rural electricity grids must be modernized to keep up with changes in energy technology and cybersecurity. And rural residents should have access quality healthcare facilities, professionals and services without traveling great distances.

Seemingly every-day conveniences in urban areas require specialized investments in rural communities, in part due to low population density. They also would help rural communities better compete for new jobs and attract a talented workforce to fill existing opportunities.

When it comes to broadband internet, the urban/rural divide is significant.

Nearly 100 percent of urban Americans have access to broadband speed internet, compared to approximately 50 percent in rural areas. That lack of access slows the deployment of technology and hampers efficiency on farms. It impedes adopting telemedicine to manage costs and improve health outcomes for our rural residents. It limits rural students’ access to the internet that would otherwise enhance their education. It prevents some from relocating their families – and bringing their skills – to rural communities. It hinders businesses from locating in rural areas, reducing economic activity and rural employment opportunities.

While estimates can vary, just installing the infrastructure to provide all Americans with competitive, modern internet speeds would cost $300 billion. The lower population density of rural areas further complicates the affordability of that service.

Farm Credit finances more than $27 billion in rural infrastructure, including rural electric co-ops, rural water systems and rural telecommunications and broadband providers. These loans improve the quality of life in our rural communities, providing clean drinking water, broadband for our schools and reliable energy for rural families and businesses.

Farm Credit has helped finance broadband projects across the country. Government grants, loans or loan guarantees, public-private partnerships and a stable regulatory regime will be essential in closing the digital divide.

Healthcare access also poses challenges in rural communities. A special report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates those challenges.

In analyzing statistics for the leading causes of death (cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease), death rates in rural areas were higher in every category. While there are many approaches for addressing this disparity, access to quality healthcare facilities is an important component.

Mercy Hospital in Moose Lake, Minnesota, faced a problem common in rural areas: aging facilities that lack the infrastructure and professional staff to deliver state-of-the-art medical care to the town’s 2,800 residents. With support from Farm Credit, other lenders and public funds, Mercy underwent a significant renovation and expansion of the hospital. The USDA’s Community Facilities program enabled this public/private partnership that now helps patients avoid the one-hour drive to the next closest hospital.

Farm Credit understands the unique challenges that rural communities face. Since 2014, we have partnered with commercial and community banks, the USDA and local communities to invest more than $1 billion in vital rural community facilities like Mercy Hospital.

Congress must continue funding for the USDA Community Facilities Program, but the USDA can’t do it alone. Public/private partnerships are the only way to ensure rural communities have the resources they need to grow and thrive. Farm Credit welcomes future opportunities to partner with banks to help rural Americans have access to the same quality of life, goods and services as their urban counterparts.

To help policymakers and others understand the breadth of need for rural infrastructure investment, Farm Credit helps coordinate more than 200 organizations from across the county through the  Rebuild Rural Coalition. Together, the coalition represents rural communities, U.S. agricultural producers, rural businesses and rural families. And it is dedicated to advocating for specific investment in rural America's infrastructure.

Strengthening the rural infrastructure that farmers rely on and the services that improve quality of life in their communities will strengthen the backbone of our country.

Providing Support for Rural America

Key to the success of both rural communities and agriculture is a reliable financial partner that understands the unique needs of rural areas.

Farm Credit has a specific mission to support rural communities and agriculture in good times and bad. We provide loans and related financial services to U.S. farmers and ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural homebuyers, agribusinesses and rural infrastructure providers.

As customer-owned cooperatives, the 73 independent Farm Credit lending institutions located across the country are governed by the customers they serve. Farm Credit loans help U.S. agricultural producers feed the world, rural businesses grow and rural economies thrive. Our infrastructure lending helps bring clean water to rural families, modern telecommunications to help rural businesses compete and reliable energy to rural communities.

With a combined loan portfolio of $259 billion at the end of 2017, we support more than 500,000 customers across all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Core to our mission is attracting investment to rural areas.

Typically, money flows out of communities and into urban financial centers – stocks markets and other investments. This model starves small towns of investable funds – the money needed to grow the economy and create jobs.

Farm Credit is unique. We reverse the usual flow of capital. We raise funds in the financial markets and put them to work in rural America. This steady flow of resources creates jobs and drives economic growth.

Conclusion

American agriculture is incredible. It is unmatched in the world.

Whether Washington is 1,400 miles away or a stone’s throw from the field, rural communities and agriculture need Congress and the president to mitigate some of the challenges involved with feeding America and the world.

Thankfully, agriculture is a bipartisan issue.

Now all Chris, Tim, Willie and Dan need is for Washington to work together. They need a Farm Bill passed on time. They need the safety net of crop insurance. They need investments in infrastructure and trade opportunities that recognize the important role of agriculture. They need broadband internet and more success stories like Mercy Hospital. And they need partners that understand rural America.

Farm Credit proudly supports these customers and more than 500,000 others across the country.

That’s our mission. We have fulfilled it for more than 100 years, and we will continue that commitment for generations to come.