Small farmers say that even with crop insurance, the 1% just gets richer


Crop insurance was created in the 1930s as a safety net for farmers, but it's become a bonanza for factory farms, allowing for more pollution and consolidation.

Farmers gathered outside of NAU Country Insurance in Ramsey, Minnesota on Monday morning to protest the powerful crop insurer’s defense of federal farm policies blamed for killing off small farms.

Using a pickup truck as a stage and hay bales to anchor their posters, the farmers said federal crop insurance -- created as a safety net to weather family farms from natural disaster – has now become a cash cow for insurance corporations while unfairly benefitting the largest of factory farms.

Because there is no cap on the subsidies, the wealthiest one percent commandeer an outsized portion of public funds, they say. That encourages them to practice risky, soil-diminishing methods such as pumping their land full of chemicals, and focusing on planting just one or two heavily subsidized crops. Crop insurance also gives the largest farmers the ability to rent land at the highest price, choking off everyone else’s access to land, small farmers complain.

They blame insurance companies, including NAU, for lobbying against reform. The insurance industry gave $711,000 to members of the Minnesota Congressional delegation in 2013 and 2014, making – according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report – too much money for what they paid out.

“I appreciate crop insurance -- does make a risky business less risky,” said Randy Krzmarzick, a Sleepy Eye corn and soybean farmer. “But crop insurance is the only federal program not subject to any limits. The largest recipients have received over a million dollars in subsidies. This comes at a time when a lot of good programs are being slashed in Washington. A safety net should not be big enough to catch ocean liners.”

Krzmarzick and other small farmers, citing a new report by family farm advocacy group the Land Stewardship Project, called for limiting the federal crop insurance program to $50,000 a year per participant, and rewarding farmers who employ crop rotation, livestock integration, and other sustainable practices.

These reforms would save public dollars for government obligations elsewhere such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), they said, which President Donald Trump recently proposed cutting by more than $200 billion over 10 years.

Debra Howze, a homecare provider who has come to rely on food stamps in her old age, says she received just $15 last month to spend on healthy food.

“What can I do with $15?” she says. “People in the community who are on the SNAP program, we do go to the co-ops. We want our families to eat healthy food. We don’t want to be eating plastic and pesticides ... We know what’s going in our bodies when we eat organically. We know people are caring for the land, they’re caring for the soil, they’re caring for the water. We want that.”

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