The Farm Credit Services of America (FCS) recently released a report on the success of crop insurance programs throughout the drought of 2012. During this drought, the major crop producing states of Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming were hard hit by the changing weather conditions and experienced some extreme crop loss. But through their findings, the FCS has determined that over 20,000 agricultural jobs were saved by crop insurance payments that allowed farmers to hold on and push forward after a catastrophic season. While we applaud the work done to maintain these livelihoods, there is so much more that the crop insurance programs could do to help save jobs of our nation’s small and sustainable farmers.
Crop insurance programs, as they currently stand, have become an integral part of the conventional farming system. There are very few products available that cater toward the organic and specialty agriculture sectors, which are the fastest growing of all sectors in the US. The report emphasizes Multi-Peril Crop Insurance, which is commodity based and includes standardization of practices that can imperil conservation and soil-health practices like cover-crops and maintaining wild spaces on farm land. These policies can keep farms afloat in these 50-year weather events and help them survive to the next season, but we need to take a harder look at who these policies are keeping above water. In the last decade, more risk management programs and insurance products (like Whole Farm Revenue Protection, mentioned very briefly in the report) have been developed and are in limited markets. Instead of applauding the success of the few who have the decades old system at their backs, why not bring forward the success and models of the small farms using these products to insure their financial and ecological future in farming? We applaud the work of the FCS in developing these new, small farm oriented options, but these need to be as widely available as the commodity crop based programs of MPCI for us to see positive effects in the sustainable, organic, and small farming communities that are coming back in America. For a future that works for all of us and gives our food system the resilience, inclusivity, and dignity necessary to solve the food question in this country, we need to not celebrate the success of the few in the face of the destruction of many. Agrarian Trust would like to see more of an emphasis on preventing the decimation of small, sustainable farms in an event like the drought of 2012 rather than the lauding of a system that only helped a few.
For some info on new and emerging campaigns to update our crop insurance system, check out our partner NSAC’s proposed policies.