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Extreme climate events could impact crop insurance payouts for farmers, taxpayers

Extreme climate events could impact crop insurance payouts for farmers, taxpayers
Posted at 10:10 AM, Aug 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 21:13:40-04

Day to day, running a farm takes a lot of work.

“You can see the soybean pods starting to form,” Lee Tesdell, a farm owner in Iowa, said.

Farms are facing more and more unknowns due to a changing climate.

“Two years ago, we had a derecho here,” he explained. “This field was corn that year and the corn got flattened, federal crop insurance paid this farmer to destroy his corn, didn't even harvest it that year.”

Tesdell showed us around his farm, which has been in the family for more than 100 years. He’s now focused on more resilient farming.

“We need to diversify more,” he said.

Just this April, a rain storm caused flooding, taking fertilizer and topsoil with it.

“We expect to see more of those severe weather events,” he said.

This is where federal crop insurance comes in.

“This crop insurance program pays farmers when they have a crop yield or revenue loss,” said Anne Schechinger, the midwest director for the Environmental Working Group.

The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization that does ongoing research on how much climate is impacting these payouts.

From 1995 to 2020, farmers received more than $143.5 billion in federal crop insurance, according to an Environmental Working Group analysis of Department of Agriculture data.

“The biggest causes of loss over that big time from 1995 to 2020, first was drought. That was far and above the largest cause of loss. And the other was excessive moisture, so the other side of drought,” Schechinger said.

“The federal crop insurance program has saved, financial saved, some farmers some years,” Tesdell said.

But it’s not just farmers footing the bill.

“Sixty percent of these crop insurance premiums are subsidized by taxpayers, so we all pay this bill,” Schechinger said.

“We are asking an investment from taxpayers to have a more stable farm economy and more stable food system,” Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, said.

In places like Iowa for example, where corn fields stretch as far as the horizon, crop insurance can be an important tool. Lehman said farmers should also do their part.

“I think that’s why it’s important for farmers to be involved in doing things that can mitigate climate change,” Lehman said. “Makes sense that we should do more to tie good practices to crop insurance.”

“This federal crop insurance program really discouraged farmers from adapting to climate change,” Schechinger said.

Every five years, the federal farm bill is discussed and changes are made. For the 2023 farm bill, discussions have already begun in Washington D.C.

“Our farm bill kind of sets the direction for our farm policy for the next five years, so it’s important that the discussions include crop insurance and how we can have the most effective crop insurance,” Lehman said.