Will Rogers once said a farmer “has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”
This eternal optimism of the American farmer — of believing the rains will come, the crops will grow and the farmstead will at least break even because of hard work and faith — was pushed to the limit the last two years. Why? A Farm Bill languished in Congress because of a political gridlock that would make even the most steeled farmer whimper with despair.
The Senate and House finally passed a $100 billion-a-year Farm Bill this month. It was fitting that President Barack Obama came to Michigan State University Feb. 7 to sign the long-delayed legislation because the final version of the Farm Bill is good for Michiganders, and it’s also good for the Grand Traverse region.
The new Farm Bill makes crop insurance available to cherry farmers. Until now, what is arguably the region’s most important crop often went uninsured because there was no adequate program available for cherry farmers to manage risk. Freakish weather in 2012 destroyed most of the northern Michigan cherry crop, yielding a chilling reality: our cherry growers need the hedging tools commonly available to more traditional commodity crops like corn.
The Farm Bill encourages crop diversity, helping small farmers. It contains incentives for farmers markets, helping advance the region’s ever-growing buy local movement. It makes it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their dollars on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, translating into healthier food options for a population base plagued by obesity. Nikki Rothwell, district horticulturist at the Northwest Michigan Horticultural Research Center, said local research on crop pollination will now continue thanks to the Farm Bill.
“(Cherry) growers are signing up for the crop insurance,” Rothwell said this week, adding “specialty crops are going to fare really well in this. That’s such a change from 2008 when specialty crops weren’t even mentioned in the Farm Bill.”
It’s worth noting that both of the region’s federal legislators deserve credit for their work on the Farm Bill. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., gained national prominence through her Farm Bill advocacy. U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, voted “yes” and didn’t get stuck in the proverbial mud over House Republicans’ efforts to cut food stamp benefits.
Our politicians in Washington, D.C. played with fire by not passing this legislation earlier, but the Farm Bill is now law — finally, sprouting renewed optimism for farmers as the spring planting approaches.