Small-scale producers share with Rep. Angie Craig how crop insurance doesn't work for them
In a roundtable with U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, small-scale producers from southern Minnesota shared how crop insurance was unattainable for their operations.
NORTHFIELD, Minn. — U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who represents Minnesota's Second Congressional District, heard from what she called nontraditional farmers on April 12, to see how they could be better represented in the next farm bill .
"We just have to do a better job of opening up farming, I think, to young people in our community, and oftentimes that really means opening up the opportunity for small organic farms," Craig said.
Before hosting a farm bill roundtable with small-scale producers from the area, Craig toured Seeds Farm and heard from Becca Rudebusch, the owner and operator of the farm in Northfield, Minnesota, where they grow 18 acres of certified organic produce. Last year, her crew harvested over half a million pounds of fruits and vegetables, grossing over $540,000.
"We grow 15 acres of certified organic vegetables and we grow for wholesale accounts such as the Minneapolis Public School District, for their school lunches," said Rudebusch, who started the farm in 2010. "We also sell to food processors, food distributors, food hubs — the majority of our produce is consumed within 50 miles of our farm."
Rudebusch, entering her 14th growing season, brought up three issues she has running her farm to Craig during the tour.
"I feel like my three biggest vulnerabilities are farming in a changing climate and not having crop insurance, being able to provide health care for my employees to retain a professional and responsible workforce," said Rudebusch. "And then the third vulnerability, I would say, is access to reliable markets."
She said the "low hanging fruit" for markets is saturated, leaving access to the next level of markets unattainable for farms her size.
"I really think that the farm bill could address all of these issues," she said.
Rudebusch said she was grateful for the opportunity to share her vulnerabilities with Craig, along with the group of farmers from the area that shared similar ones.
"We've been able to build and create these businesses, these thriving, vibrant businesses without the support of the farm bill so far," she said. "If we were to lower the barriers for farmers for specialty crops like mine to access farm bill programs, I think it would really make a big improvement."
A farm bill for small producers, too
"I am optimistic we're going to get a farm bill done, but that doesn't mean there isn't going to be a bit of back and forth," Craig said of the realities of crafting the next farm bill on April 12. "Certainly, we need to make sure that we have a strong nutrition title in the farm bill."
But Craig said her goal of the roundtable was to make sure she got perspective from specialty crop producers.
"Particularly around conservation title, around the crop insurance title, and about new and beginning farmers," Craig said of the event. "It was a really great candid discussion about a group of people who I wouldn't say have been left out of the farm bill completely — but beyond the grant dollars for the EQUIP program or CSP, there hasn't been a lot in it for folks like this who are farming."
Fixing federal crop insurance
Craig asked the group of about 20 young, small-scale operators how many of them had bought a crop insurance product , and none of them raised their hand.
Rudebusch, who told Craig on the tour that all it takes is one frost to kill an entire pepper crop, said that she hasn't been able to secure realistic crop insurance for her operation.
Aaron Wills is the owner of Little Hill Berry Farm which grows around 15 acres of certified organic blueberries, raspberries and strawberries.
Wills said he's always wanted crop insurance for their farm but since it's based on historical revenue, it hasn't been realistic for them. He said in the last three years they've had $100,000 of revenue, $150,000 and $200,000.
"The average of that is $150,000, so that's what I can get insurance for," Wills said. "This year, my hope is that we're going to sell $250,000 — so basing it on historical records just doesn't work."
His suggestion was to allow farmers who've been farming for a few years to be able to predict their future revenue to get the insurance level they need, based on their track record of farming.
"Because just like if you had your house that you bought for $100,000, and now it's worth $200,000, buying insurance for $100,000 on the house doesn't do you any good," Wills said. "It just seems like the mechanism to determine how much you qualify for doesn't work for me, and I'm curious, it works for other people."
Andy Petran, owner and operator of Twin Cities Berry Co. , said that for people who are transitioning from leasing to owning land, realistic crop insurance is also unattainable.
"I'm going to be moving from half of an acre of production to five acres of production in one year, or making my way to that, because I have that stability now," Petran said. "But it also means that crop insurance based on a whole farm is going to be useless for me for the next five years, because my historical data is going to be based on a size that was an order of magnitude lower than what I'm going to have going forward."
Petran said that if insurance coverage could be tied to a production plan rather than historical revenue, it would scale much better to growers who are on a smaller size.
"I feel like I'm being punished for scaling up, because now insurance doesn't work for me for the next several years, because it's based on historical data that just doesn't apply anymore," he said.