BISMARCK, N.D. - While negotiations over the next farm bill in Congress may seem distant, North Dakota farmers hope the 2018 bill can make their work more sustainable. The improving economy has helped the country dig out of the Great Recession, but it also means farmers are getting less for what they produce.
Crop insurance is a way to help support farmers in situations like these, but Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says farmers can't get full coverage for losses on things such as production costs. He compares it to only getting partial home insurance after a disaster.
"When it's all said and done, somebody doesn't come in and say, 'Well, you had $200,000 of coverage here, but we only allowed you to buy 70 percent of it, so we're only giving you $140,000,'" he said. "If that can't replace your house, you've got a problem."
Members of Congress already are holding listening sessions for next year's bill. Watne says crop insurance is a very useful tool for farmers and that farmers do get help with premiums. However, he says the premium on the highest coverage you can get, which is 85 percent, is expensive and impractical for farmers. He hopes the next bill allows for full coverage for farmers.
Watne says as prices go down, so does coverage. If the expenses for production don't come down as well, farmers are left in a hole. Farming also becomes harder to sustain.
Watne says if the farm bill is considered solely based on budgetary concerns, a sustainable system might be hard to maintain, especially for family farmers.
"The soil isn't as important, conservation isn't as important, training the next generation of farming isn't important because if you do all that for free, you can't make it," he added. "So you start to give that up and then you run into problems where you don't have that talent on the land. The priorities change to profit instead of maintaining the stewardship of the land, and I really think that's a big mistake."
Watne emphasizes that the agricultural programs in place are not expensive. They make up a little more than a quarter of one percent of the federal budget.
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota's congressional delegation is praising the Senate's confirmation of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue as agriculture secretary.
Perdue has assured nervous farm-state senators that he'll advocate for rural America, even as President Donald Trump's administration has proposed deep cuts to some farm programs. His promise to reach across the aisle won him several votes from Democrats, including North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's. Heitkamp says Perdue will be "a strong voice for agricultural trade in the administration."
Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer touted Perdue's experience as the governor of a farm state and his understanding of the agriculture industry.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven says Perdue will be a strong leader for the federal Agriculture Department, which has about 100,000 employees and is in charge of the nation's food and farm programs.
(Copyright 2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)