Small farmers, big headache

Flooded tractor (source: RAFI)

Insurance isn’t a topic I typically find riveting, but I was glued to the radio last week listening to Scott Marlow talk about how small farms have a hard time getting disaster insurance. Scott is director of Farm Sustainability programs for the Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI), which we’re lucky to have based right here in NC, in Pittsboro, Chatham County. He was interviewed by Frank Stasio on WUNC’s “The State of Things” on Aug. 17. 

As usual, with so many things, farming being no exception, laws and rules are written for bigger, industrial, corporate entities. The way this plays out in farm insurance is that up to 80 percent of our state’s farm income is uninsured. Which means a disaster, like a hurricane, could put hundreds of farmers out of business. The lack of coverage affects other things as well, including getting bank loans.

Part of the problem is that in order to calculate insurance is to record sales data. Scott mentioned, the USDA keeps detailed commodity records for years back, but there’s no keeping track of how much lettuce was sold at farmers’ markets just last Saturday. As more and more farms deal in direct marketing, especially with higher-priced organic and specialty crops, this is a real drawback.

Vollmer Farm, while successful, still has its share of insurance battles

RAFI, on its website, also has an interview with Bunn, NC, farmer John Vollmer. He and his wife, Betty, transformed their family’s farm from tobacco to organic produce, berries, pumpkins, and agritourism. Vollmer Farm in Franklin County is now one of the state’s most successful agritourism enterprises, in part because it’s a beautiful place, well run, and with many activities, but also because it’s authentic – a real working farm. Even so, they’re fighting the insurance battle with other small farms.

We’re all lucky to have RAFI right here in NC, fighting the good fight.

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