WASHINGTON D.C. — The only talk on Capitol Hill is a looming government shutdown. A shutdown in 2018, that cost taxpayers nearly $13 billion. A divided House that cannot agree on a Continual Resolution to keep the government afloat.
Amid dancing beneath the Capitol Rotunda, Congress has several issues aside from the Federal Budget, the FAA Authorization Bill, and the Farm Bill.
Come October 1, 2023, the United States could be in trouble. The implications for Montana’s Agriculture Producers have the fate of crop insurance in limbo. If the Farm Bill isn’t passed, most of the legislation’s benefits remain intact for upwards of a year.
For Greg and Susan Herden of Brockway in McCone County, Crop Insurance has been a lifeline, they have a love-hate relationship with.
“Two years ago, in 2021, we had zero crops. Our crop was eaten by the grasshoppers. It was eaten as soon as it came up,” shared Susan Herder, at Senator Tester’s Farm Bill Tour in Glasgow.
Herden, a German immigrant, was outspoken toward the government’s handling of disaster benefits demanding more help to disaster-stricken farmers.
For Greg and Susan, 2021 wasn’t only a disaster year for grasshoppers, it was coupled with drought, and other input costs. The next three seasons were almost recorded full losses to their small grain crop.
In McCone County, Crop Insurance is a bushel-to-bushel percentage and the Herden’s exceeded Crop insurance expectations in loss only covering a fraction.
“They say if you have a complete disaster and a complete wipeout, you get 75% of that.”
That 75% coverage pays out enough to put another crop in the ground. It isn’t enough when a grasshopper infestation is nearly impossible to manage.
The losses grew, the optimism diminished, and the uncertainty grew as the list of yearly maintenance on the farm grew.
“I have 10 miles of fence that needs replacing. My cows get out. That is to the tune of $10,000 for one mile. So, I have $100,000 needed for new fencing.”
The Herden’s might be an extreme exception for disaster, but Charlie Bumgarner, a Cascade County farmer, utilized Crop Insurance in the recent drought years.
With Bumgarner’s crop coverage, he was able to have a small chunk left over. That wasn’t much to work with. He told MTN News that the insurance is like any other service, the amount of coverage you get is based on the premium paid. He, along with other farmers continues to advocate for the same level of federal funding offered in the program.
“To at least maintain what we have. Of course, we always want to make it a better product if we can. It’s a fight that’s always going to be ongoing.” Bumgarner expressed.
Crop Insurance is the biggest safety net for farmers and ranchers who are affected by natural disasters and changing markets.
Senator Jon Tester, who is the only active farmer in the United States Senate says the work has been done.
“You (as in Reporter Ryan Gamboa) were at my Farm Bill Roundtable in Glasgow. You heard everyone say, ‘Don’t screw it up.’” Tester said, “It works pretty darn good right now. If you do anything, put things like cover crops or some oil seeds in it so those are eligible. We passed that along to the folks in the Farm Bill.”
Congressman Rosendale posted a picture on the Social Media Platform “X” formerly known as Twitter; he would be voting against the Continual Resolution.
Many agriculture producers that have issued their concerns to MTN News have shared that the Farm Bill is typically on the chopping block.
Congressman Rosendale issued his response from a member of a split House.
“I haven't heard anybody at all discussing chopping the crop insurance program. They understand that that is foundational, to making sure that our farmers have something that they can invest in to make sure that at the end of the year if they happen to get hit with some kind of disaster, that that they are covered…”
None of Montana’s Congressional Delegation sit on an Agriculture Committee, so MTN News sat down with a Republican from California and Fourth Generation Rice Farmer, House Ag Committee Member Congressman Doug LaMalfa.
“…Domestic production of food still doesn't seem to be seen as a strategic and security issue that it really should be…,” state Rep. LaMalfa.
He compared many of the disconnects between agriculture and government to his home state of California. LaMalfa is the representative from Congressional District 1, covering North of Sacramento, through the Sacramento Valley, to the Oregon Border, , and east to Nevada. It’s Congressman LaMalfa’s fifth term as the District 1 House Leader for the Republican dominant area of California.
During his sit-down interview with MTN News, Congressman LaMalfa was frustrated. His frustrations stemmed from other leaders in the House of Representatives dancing around an agreement on a federal budget.
“My colleagues aren't going to vote for anything. They'd rather be in front of the press. Yeah, okay. Then they're going to put ourselves into this box. You know which ones they are. They're on TV a lot. It's unfortunate. We'll just have to make do during these next days before the end of September and see what comes of it.”
On Monday, Congress released that the Federal Government is $33 trillion in debt.
Senator Tester says that most of Congress understands the importanceof Crop Insurance, despite a growing deficit.
This week on your local MTN station, watch for new stories regarding the Farm Bill on morning and evening broadcasts. Topics have been chosen from when MTN News attended Farm Bill hearings around the state. The coverage is made possible by the Greater Montana Foundation.