Betting on the Farm
The biggest bets aren’t made at a card table, racetrack or during the Super Bowl. Instead, they happen every day on farms and ranches across the country. While most bettors place their hopes (and a few dollars) on a single event, those who grow our food face a successive series of wagers with the fate of the farm in the balance.
It takes a lot of optimism to grow a crop from seed or raise an animal from birth when so much is often out of your control. Perils from Mother Nature abound — heat, cold, drought, flood, insects, diseases, storms and fires are just some of the potentially devastating events that can cause a bet to go south. Even if you successfully navigate all of those, you may still find yourself receiving a payout that doesn’t seem to justify all the risk, let alone the expense of production.
Resolve is necessary in a business where just breaking even sometimes counts as a remarkable achievement. Not losing everything means you get to stay at the table. There’s always a reason that next year will be better, fewer repairs needed, better weather, higher prices and so on.
Thankfully, farmers and ranchers have access to risk management tools and other programs through the farm bill. Their jobs still take plenty of optimism, resolve and courage, but it makes the lean years a little more bearable.
With work on the 2023 farm bill already underway, it’s important to remember the difficulties that come with food production. The farm bill doesn’t just offer protection for farmers and ranchers, it’s also a national security package.
A robust domestic food supply strengthens our country while offering consumers the benefit of high-quality, affordable food. The farm bill’s nutrition component provides help to our most vulnerable brethren. Other aspects of the bill fund conservation programs and make investments in agricultural research.
The farm bill has a long history of broad, bipartisan support in Congress because it comprehensively addresses the threats inherent in producing food. Cynics like to claim it merely buys votes with programs aimed at both rural (crop insurance) and urban populations (nutrition programs), but the two are linked.
This is something the skeptics misunderstand. What happens at farm level can’t be separated from the food going to towns and cities. The unity of nutrition and farm programs has been one of the greatest successes of the farm bill, and it should be the bedrock of the upcoming legislation.
These safety nets don’t eliminate all the risks that come with production agriculture, but they do tilt the odds ever so slightly. Just as homeowners buy insurance hoping it’s never needed; farmers don’t plant a crop with the intention of it failing. Similarly, nobody sets out with the goal of needing the nutrition programs offered under the farm bill.
Farming will always be a big gamble. The safest bet the rest of us can make is ensuring those who grow and raise the food we eat have the tools they need to continue providing us with healthy, safe, nutritious and affordable food for years to come.