Quantcast

Record-Breaking $17 Billion in Crop Loss Stresses Need for Federal Insurance Program Reform

Food

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Dana Gunders

Extreme weather means lost food as drought, flood and other weather-related farming hazards threaten and destroy crops. But what are we to do, since we can’t fight weather? Or can we?

As we enter this new frontier of the wild, wild weather, one of the most promising strategies for reducing both the material and financial losses is to build the resilience of our farms. Practices such as cover cropping, no-till and efficient irrigation have shown to reduce crop losses associated with extreme weather. Faced with a future of untold numbers of drastic weather events, we would be silly not to use every tool in our toolbox to promote these types of water-smart, climate-proofing practices.

On Tuesday, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report, Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program should be reformed, outlining a strategy to use one of the most prevalent farming risk management tools, the FCIP, to encourage more resilience on our farms.

Fortunately, farmers who lose crops due to extreme weather are covered through the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP), which reimburses them when those disasters hit. Unfortunately, the bill—a large portion of which is paid by the American public—has been skyrocketing alongside the increased rate of extreme weather events. In 2011, FCIP paid out a record-breaking $10.8 billion in crop insurance claims to farmers, many of whom suffered during the historic Mississippi River basin floods that year. FCIP broke that record in 2012, when indemnities topped an all-time high of $17.3 billion, mostly due to severe drought. Nearly $8.4 billion of those total crop loss payouts were funded directly by taxpayers.

Corn farmers in states that were most impacted by the 2012 drought—Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas—received nearly $4 billion in indemnities due to drought loss. However, the average cover cropping corn farmer’s yields did not go below the average yield that would trigger an insurance claim payment in these states. Cover cropped fields yielded an average of 122 bushels of corn per acre in these states, while non-cover cropped fields yielded only 106 bushels of corn per acre on average.

This 15 percent increase in yield for the average cover cropping farmer meant he/she did not hit the crop insurance “deductible,” and therefore most of the money paid out in these states went to corn farmers who did not use cover crops. Effectively, this means we are penalizing farmers who are working to build their resilience, to reduce their losses, to ultimately save both the crops themselves and the payments the American public is paying out.

If farmers planting cover crops don’t experience the same losses, shouldn’t they get a “good driver” credit on their insurance premium? Right now, FCIP premium rates are non-competitively set by the Risk Management Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. While setting those rates, why not take the opportunity to reward those who are practicing preventative measures (especially when those same measures are saving water, fertilizer and erosion occurrence)? 

Earlier this year, we published a survey on crop losses in fruits and vegetables to examine what was driving the losses. A good portion of the losses were due to economic drivers, such as low prices at the time of harvest. Weather and pests were of course mentioned too, as inherent risks to the businesses that were difficult to ameliorate. Difficult, yes—we all know you can’t change the weather—but what we can do is take steps to defy its effect by setting ourselves up with the healthiest soil, most efficient irrigation and least amount of erosion possible. 

To do this, let’s give farmers who cost the system less the premium breaks they are due.

Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and FOOD pages for more related news on this topic.

——–

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pixabay

By Claire L. Jarvis

A ruckus over biofuels has been brewing in Iowa.

Read More Show Less
Serena and Venus Williams have been known to follow a vegan diet. Edwin Martinez / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Whitney E. Akers

  • "The Game Changers" is a new documentary on Netflix that posits a vegan diet can improve athletic performance in professional athletes.

  • Limited studies available show that the type of diet — plant-based or omnivorous — doesn't give you an athletic advantage.

  • We talked to experts about what diet is the best for athletic performance.

Packed with record-setting athletes displaying cut physiques and explosive power, "The Game Changers," a new documentary on Netflix, has a clear message: Vegan is best.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
An illegally trafficked tiger skull and pelt. Ryan Moehring / USFWS

By John R. Platt

When it comes to solving problems related to wildlife trade, there are an awful lot of "sticky widgets."

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be both good and bad.

On one hand, it helps your body defend itself from infection and injury. On the other hand, chronic inflammation can lead to weight gain and disease.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Dan Nosowitz

It's no secret that the past few years have been disastrous for the American farming industry.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pexels

By Gavin Van De Walle, MS, RD

Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil and coconut oil are fats that have risen in popularity alongside the ketogenic, or keto, diet.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Bijal Trivedi

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report on Nov. 13 that describes a list of microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics and pose a serious threat to public health. Each year these so-called superbugs cause more than 2.8 million infections in the U.S. and kill more than 35,000 people.

Read More Show Less
Rool Paap / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE

Inflammation can be good or bad depending on the situation.

Read More Show Less