New AFT Paper Strengthens the Case for Building Bridges between Crop Insurance and Soil Health
Washington, DC – Today, AFT released a Farm Bill white paper detailing recommendations for strengthening crop insurance by better integrating risk-reducing soil health practices into the program.
“Uncertainty is inherent to farming,” said Emily Liss, AFT’s Federal Policy Analyst and the lead author of the paper, “which makes crop insurance indispensable for keeping the nation’s farmers in business. Unfortunately, climate change is making farming even more unpredictable, which threatens farmers, our food system, and the viability of this critical farm safety net.”
The white paper, the fourth in AFT’s Farm Bill series, builds the case that the risks to agricultural production and farm finances are increasing due to extreme weather caused by climate change, rising input prices due to inflation and international conflict, and more. For instance, NASA research states that climate change will reduce corn yields by 24% in just the next ten years. This makes it even harder for farmers to stay in business – and to continue putting food on our tables.
The white paper notes that greater production risks will also jeopardize the future of the safety net itself, due to ballooning indemnities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicts that climate impacts could result in the cost of the crop insurance program increasing from 10% to 37% if adaptation measures (e.g., soil health practices) are not put in place. With such adaptation measures, however, FCIP costs are only expected to increase 3.5% to 22%.
Adoption of soil health practices, such as conservation tillage, cover crops, and diversified crop rotations help to mitigate some of these risks, however. Research has shown they can boost yields—even in drought conditions—and help to reduce flooding, decrease compaction, moderate soil temperatures, and mitigate the need for expensive inputs such as diesel and fertilizer.
“In addition to compensating farmers for past losses,” said Tim Fink, AFT’s Policy Director, “the Federal Crop Insurance Program could also play a role in helping farmers avoid those losses in the first place. By building incentives—and addressing disincentives—for adopting soil health practices in crop insurance, we can proactively protect both our food supply and farmer livelihoods, all while reducing taxpayer costs.”
The white paper makes practical recommendations to Congress and USDA for integrating soil health practices into crop insurance. This includes passing the bipartisan and bicameral Conservation Opportunity and Voluntary Environment Resilience (COVER) Act, introduced in May by Senator Brown (D-OH) and Representatives Casten (D-Ill), Bost (R-Ill), and Slotkin (D-MI), as part of the Farm Bill. The COVER Act would codify UDSA’s Pandemic Cover Crop Program (PCCP), which was offered nationally in the 2021 and 2022 crop years. The PCCP was based on four state-level programs (in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, and Wisconsin), which provide a $5 per acre crop insurance rebate to farmers who planted cover crops. This small rebate was hugely popular: Although the PCCP only ran for two years, it supported cover crops on 22 million acres, and put over $100 million back into farmer’s pockets.
The paper also recommends that Congress and USDA: pursue a research agenda to better understand how soil health practices can reduce production risks; continue to improve collaboration between NRCS and RMA to make it easier for farmers enrolled in crop insurance to adopt soil health practices; create a new endorsement option for soil health practices; and increase promotion, education, and outreach for the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program.
This white paper signals a new wave of AFT federal engagement in crop insurance issues. This came on the heels of research showing the risk-reducing and resilience-building benefits of soil health practices, and the popularity of the state-level crop insurance rebate programs and the Pandemic Cover Crop Program.
“The success of these programs proves that crop insurance and soil health practices can work together,” said Liss. “Farmers are already on board. Now it’s Congress’ turn to update the Federal Crop Insurance Program to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
To learn more about American Farmland Trust’s Farm Bill advocacy, visit the Farm Bill Homepage