No sooner had we published stories about cotton farmers “persevering” through hard times, and other farmers looking to the farm bill’s safety nets (ARC and PLC) to ease them through what was a challenging year in 2015, than I began receiving calls and e-mails questioning the premises that (1) cotton farmers are anything but on the cusp of wrack and ruin, or (2) that grain farmers are finding anything but disappointment in the farm bill’s safety nets.
Believe me, I understand the frustration. The Agriculture Act of 2014 is nothing like farm bills of the past, in which producers had at least some assurance of income assistance when crops or markets failed. Cotton was removed completely as an included commodity, and left only an insurance-based protection plan. Grain and some other crop producers had a more complex decision-making process than ever before — but fewer certainties, and also more insurance-based risk protection.
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A Texas wheat farmer who selected the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) option phoned to voice his frustration. When the crop was harvested — not a good one by any means — he discovered that he didn’t qualify for payments because the program he chose depended on county losses. Farmers in nearby counties, he says, received payments. He’s concerned that he and other growers may not survive crop or market disasters under these new programs.
A cotton farmer rang “to vent,” noting that cotton producers in his area weren’t persevering, but were on the brink of losing their farms. Crop insurance, including the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX), was of little help, he says, since low yields the last few years left coverage levels low and premium costs high.
Neither farmer sees a clear path out of his dilemma. Both are discouraged, and feel as if they have been — once again — let down by a program that until recently had provided at least a semblance of a safety net to help them recover from hard times.
The last farm bill, a tooth-pulling endeavor from early 2011 hearings to final passage in 2014, was crafted during a period of record high commodity prices and ramifications from a harsh ruling on cotton from the World Trade organization.
In retrospect, one could surmise that farm bill developers assumed those high prices would continue. They didn’t. And thus the farmer frustration.