Crop Insurance Basics: Historic Drought Loss

It has been an exceptionally difficult crop year for many of America’s farmers and ranchers as drought conditions in the West and northern Plains have distressed crops and grazing lands. Approximately 210 million acres of crops are experiencing some level of drought conditions.

Millions of farmers trust crop insurance to help manage their risks, including drought, and farmers have already spoken out about the importance of the farm safety net and crop insurance during years like these.

“Many of our risk management programs, like crop insurance, will be vitally important this year for those producers,” National Association of Wheat Growers Executive Director Chandler Goule said after touring drought-stricken wheat fields in the Dakotas and Minnesota. “Most of the producers we’ve talked to…I’m not going to say they were optimistic but very thankful they had crop insurance programs.”

While the full extent of drought damage is yet to be revealed, crop insurers are already engaged with farmers and ranchers on the ground to help them navigate this historic drought. Currently, more than 90 percent of America’s row crop farmland is protected by crop insurance, and we stand at the ready to keep America growing – no matter the size or scope of the disaster.

So, how does crop insurance respond to a historic drought? We don’t need to look very far back in the history books to find the answer.

In 2012, drought gripped America’s heartland, leaving most of the country reeling from at least some level of drought. It was one of the worst disasters to hit American agriculture in decades.

“Going out in the fields… is a thoroughly depressing experience,” Illinois farmer David Andris told National Crop Insurance Services at the time. “If we didn’t have crop insurance…this year might be the end of it for me.”

The decrease in corn production per acre in 2012 was the largest caused by a drought since 1988.

Farmer Robert Geddes emphasized the importance of having crop insurance during 2012 for the “nasty years like this.” Growers in his area had invested a lot into growing the best crop possible, only to see it lost to drought. If farmers didn’t have the safety net provided by crop insurance, “they’d truly be hurting.”

Thankfully, crop insurance performed extremely well. It quickly and efficiently delivered aid to rural America – exactly as Congress designed.

The public-private partnership of crop insurance meant that farmers weren’t left waiting for years for some form of ad-hoc disaster assistance. Private-sector insurance adjusters quickly assessed damage in the field and crop insurance companies worked swiftly to finalize more than one million claims. This gave farmers the certainty to plan for the next planting season.

Not only did crop insurance help farmers and ranchers weather the drought of 2012, ensuring the security of our food and fiber supply, but crop insurance had a positive impact throughout the rural economy.

An economic study commissioned by Farm Credit Services of America found that in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming alone, crop insurance indemnities from the 2012 drought generated enough off-farm income to save 20,900 non-farming jobs.

Our thoughts are with the farmers and ranchers who are currently dealing with this devastating drought. But history shows us that we will face this challenge together – just as we have before.

Responding to Drought: Crop Insurance’s Proven Track Record

As America’s farmers and ranchers face severe drought conditions, we’ve been reflecting on the historic drought that swept across American farmland in 2012. That disaster showed just how efficiently the Federal crop insurance program can deliver aid when everything is on the line for America’s farmers.

Former USDA Under Secretary Michael Scuse commended the crop insurance industry for its response to the 2012 drought saying, “To this day, I have yet to have a single producer call me with a complaint about crop insurance. That is a testament to just how well your agents, your adjusters, the companies, and the Risk Management Agency (RMA) worked together in one of the worst droughts in the history of this nation.”

Crop insurance stepped up then to provide timely claims service and indemnity payments to keep America growing, and we are once again ready to provide critical relief to our producers.

Over the past decade, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have continued to strengthen the successful public-private partnership that defines the Federal crop insurance program. Farmers have come to count on the efficiency of the private sector, and crop insurance companies are continually making additional investments to process claims quickly and accurately.

As a result, more and more farmers have turned to crop insurance to help manage their risks. As the cornerstone of the farm safety net, crop insurance currently insures more than 440 million acres of American farmland. That’s over 157 million more acres protected by crop insurance when compared to the acres covered during the 2012 drought.

However, each of these acres is not affected equally by current drought conditions. While the 2012 drought was widespread across much of the country – affecting approximately 85 percent of corn production – the current drought is much more severe in the West and northern Plains. Fifteen states in the West, High Plains, and portions of the Midwest are experiencing extreme and/or exceptional drought.

“This is definitely the worst crop year we have had since we started farming 35 years ago,” Washington wheat farmer Marci Green recently told ABC News. “Years like this are the reason we have crop insurance.”

No matter where the damage happens, private-sector crop insurance companies are ready to deploy loss adjustment teams, determine losses, and quickly pay claims to growers. In fact, crop insurance adjusters have already been out in the fields for months, appraising crops and educating farmers on the specifics of their individual crop insurance policy.

One of the key strengths of crop insurance is that farmers share in the risk – and the cost – of crop insurance. That means American taxpayers will not be left 100 percent on the hook for the cost of the drought.

Farmers pay insurance premiums to purchase coverage before disaster strikes and, like other lines of insurance, shoulder a portion of losses through their deductible. Private crop insurance companies take on losses as well.

The Federal government plays a role, too. In 2012, the government fulfilled its role as a reinsurer under the terms of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement and stepped in to share in the severe and catastrophic losses.

Each component of the Federal crop insurance program worked together in 2012 to help American agriculture survive in the face of overwhelming disaster.

Now, as America’s farmers and ranchers face yet another historic drought, crop insurance is again working to help farmers on the road to recovery. The Federal crop insurance program has a proven track record of delivering for farmers and ranchers in challenging times, and we will continue to meet that call.

Members of Congress Share Support for Crop Insurance

Congress recently heard loud and clear from America’s farmers that they must do no harm to crop insurance as they consider programs to support rural America.

Farmers representing a diverse range of commodities testified last week before a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing called by Subcommittee Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) to share their experience with the farm safety net.

“We’ve heard time and again how critical crop insurance is as a risk management tool for farmers,” Chairwoman Bustos said in her opening remarks.

Growers spoke to the effectiveness of the crop insurance program and its irreplaceable role in the farm safety net. Each of the farmers had been personally affected by either weather disasters, market volatility, or the pandemic. Sometimes even all three.

No matter the challenge, crop insurance was there to help them manage their risks and keep growing another season.

Their messages of support for crop insurance were quickly echoed by several of the members of Congress in attendance, including Congressman GT Thompson (R-Pa.), Ranking Member of the full committee:

“Rather than wait for an act of Congress, farmers need reliable assistance that only a standing program can provide and there is no better example of a program that responds quickly when needed than crop insurance. Above all else, we must first do no harm to the existing safety net.”

Several farmers underscored Congressman Thompson’s message on the timeliness of crop insurance assistance. The crop insurance program utilizes a unique public-private partnership to deliver indemnity checks in just days or weeks – not months, or even years, as can be the case when relying on ad hoc disaster assistance.

Congresswoman Angie Craig (D-Minn.) noted that the testimony before the subcommittee and conversations with her constituents had made it clear that “risk management tools like crop insurance are more important than ever. Federal crop insurance has been a success story because it’s actuarially sound and consistently works for farmers.”

Crop insurance is popular and trusted by farmers because it is affordable, widely available, and economically viable. It gives farmers the tools they need to tackle the challenges of today – and tomorrow.

Farmers Emphasize to Congress Importance of Crop Insurance

Farmers from across the country testified last week before a House Agriculture Subcommittee hearing examining the efficacy of the farm safety net.

While each grower had a unique story to share, a common thread quickly became clear: America’s farmers depend on the Federal crop insurance program.

Read in their own words what crop insurance means to America’s farmers:

“Crop insurance is a vital tool for farmers, and Congress must not do anything to undermine it.” – Wes Shannon, peanut and cotton farmer in Georgia

“Crop insurance is a cornerstone of my operation. Our ability to market our grain, manage our risks and financially survive depends on crop insurance. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in a growing crop that can be wiped out in one weather event. And there are broader impacts on the ag economy. Considering what farmers spend on ag inputs, machinery, equipment, and crop protection, we must be successful for everyone else. That’s why crop insurance is so critical for our entire industry.” – Jeff Kirwan, corn and soybean farmer in Illinois

“Federal crop insurance is an absolute mainstay to rural Minnesota and farm families like mine. If Washington does anything on farm policy, it should first do no harm to crop insurance.” – Rob Tate, farmer, crop insurance agent, and crop revenue consultant in Minnesota

“I view the Federal crop insurance program to be a fundamental element of the safety net that secures the survival of domestic food production, which I consider to be of critical national importance for all Americans.” – Brian Talley, specialty crop farmer in California

These testimonies reflect the key role that crop insurance plays in the farm safety net. More than 1.1 million Federal crop insurance policies provide more than $100 billion in coverage across more than 380 million acres of farmland in all 50 states. It’s available to farmers of all sizes and more than 130 commodities.

Throughout the hearing, the growers shared their personal experiences with crop insurance and outlined the strengths of the Federal crop insurance program.

Unlike ad hoc disaster bills, which can take years before help arrives, crop insurance delivers assistance for covered losses in just days or weeks. That’s because crop insurance is built on a unique private-public partnership that draws on the efficiency of the private sector to quickly assess damages and determine losses when Mother Nature strikes.

The crop insurance program also gives farmers predictable tools to manage their unique risks. Farmers invest in crop insurance before a disaster – sharing in the risk – and they know how the rules of their policy will help them recover.

Rob Tate also testified that as an agent, he’s seen how important crop insurance is not only for established farmers, but also beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers who need to secure credit and manage their risks.

It’s no wonder that when everything is on the line, America’s farmers turn to crop insurance. Congress must continue to strengthen the crop insurance program and preserve this vital part of the farm safety net.

Crop Insurance Protects YOUR State

The past year has instilled in many of us a deeper appreciation for America’s farmers and ranchers – and the daily challenges they face to keep America supplied with a bounty of food and fiber.

From sea to shining sea, America’s crop insurance providers are proud to stand beside our farmers and ranchers and provide them with the risk management tools that they need to weather any storm.

In fact, crop insurance protects farmers in all 50 states, covering nearly 400 million acres across America.

How does crop insurance protect your state?

Visit CropInsuranceInMyState.org to explore 50 fact sheets highlighting the importance of agriculture and demonstrating how crop insurance keeps your state growing.

From small produce farms to large row crop operations, crop insurance is available to all farmers, no matter their size or what they choose to grow. It covers more than 130 different commodities

Both cranberry growers in Massachusetts and corn farmers in Texas count on the safety net provided by crop insurance to help make these two very different crops among the top crops in their states.

And a thriving agricultural economy contributes to the economic health of each state, underscoring the important role that crop insurance plays in supporting our communities.

Each fact sheet also highlights one of the most unique aspects of the crop insurance program: the private-public partnership that requires both farmers and private insurers to invest into the crop insurance system. Farmers and ranchers collectively pay between $3.5 billion and $4 billion a year out of their own pockets in crop insurance premiums.

Farmers and ranchers continue to invest in crop insurance because not only is it affordable and widely available, but they also know they can count on crop insurance to deliver aid quickly when disaster strikes.

Check out your state’s fact sheet at CropInsuranceInMyState.org and share why crop insurance matters to you on social media using the hashtag #InsureMyState.

Crop Insurance Basics: Risk Mitigation and Risk Management

Risk mitigation and risk management are two sides of the same coin when it comes to improving agricultural outcomes and promoting climate-smart decisions.

On the front of the coin, we have risk mitigation. This side represents all the steps farmers and ranchers take to reduce the amount of risk they face. For example, farmers utilizing precision ag technology, new seed varieties, or conservation practices like reduced tillage and cover cropping can increase their resiliency by improving yields and soil health.

On the back of the coin, we have risk management. This side represents all the steps farmers and ranchers take to manage the costs and impacts of the many uncontrolled risks they still face. Agriculture’s primary risk management tool is crop insurance, which is delivered by private-sector insurers and is partially funded by farmers through premiums.

For optimal effectiveness, these two sides should work in concert, not conflict, to encourage conservation while ensuring the ability of farmers and ranchers to continue operating after a disaster.

Crop insurance must be flexible enough to embrace the newest tools, technologies, and techniques being used to improve the land, conserve resources, increase operating efficiencies, and mitigate risk. Conversely, new conservation efforts must be consistent with the economics that underpin crop insurance’s widely successful risk management strategy.

These facts were reinforced by a recent study published in the renowned peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Management. It noted that crop insurance is not a barrier to the adoption of conservation practices and is key to helping farmers maintain healthy soil.

The public-private partnership of crop insurance has evolved over the years to become the cornerstone of America’s farm safety net policy. And it has stood the test of time because of built-in flexibility responding to any situation that Mother Nature presents.

Specifically, the system is built on constant data analysis, up-to-date good farming practices, and actuarial soundness, which means premiums for coverage generally cover expected indemnities over the long term.

Crop insurance encourages smart farming practices on the most productive land through a self-correcting premium rating and underwriting system. In short, farmers who have a strong Actual Production History (APH) get better premium rates and thus lower premiums relative to their higher yields. Lower premiums motivate farmers to mitigate risk and build strong production histories with higher yields.

Crop insurance is also constantly improving, which is imperative as farmers deal with the ill effects of extreme weather. Section 508(h) of the Federal Crop Insurance Act allows for the private submission of crop insurance policy ideas and sets forth clear criteria for policy approvals by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board of Directors.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also works to continually improve crop insurance through the development of new policies. For example, the new Hurricane Insurance Protection – Wind Index Endorsement coverage arrived just in time to help offset devastating losses from the string of hurricanes that occurred during 2020. This new option was quickly added to fill a need in the agricultural community, and in its first year of implementation, it helped farmers rebound from eight significant wind events.

The new hurricane program – just like insurance products covering more than 130 crops in this country – works because it is rooted in sound science and economic principles.  These fundamentals of actuarial soundness will be essential as policymakers look for ways to encourage farmers to adopt more and more conservation practices. Policymakers must not lower insurance premium rates without proper justification – to do so would only place the entire risk management system in jeopardy and arbitrarily punish the farmers it serves.

Instead, incentives should reward farmers for their actions without upending actuarial soundness. State governments in Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois have found a way to do this with local programs that help offset a portion of farmers’ insurance costs.

In other words, the two sides of the coin must continue working together as they are designed to do.

Crop Insurance 101

Crop insurance is a critical program for maintaining our nation’s supply of food, fuel and fiber. It helps farmers and ranchers navigate the risks of farming and plant again after a disaster while providing them the necessary stability to continue investing in long-term conservation practices.

But with terms like “Actual Production History” or “Whole-Farm Revenue Protection,” it might sometimes feel like you need to be an insurance whiz to fully understand how this public-private partnership works.

That’s why National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) put together CropInsurance101.org.

There, the public and policymakers can learn more about the history of crop insurance and how it works today to protect farmers and ranchers.

We’ve recently added a wealth of new content:

  • Links to the entire “Crop Insurance Basics” series, which explores crop insurance concepts in an easy-to-understand way.
  • Information on a peer-reviewed study in the Journal of Environmental Management which found that crop insurance is not a barrier to the adoption of conservation practices and plays a role in helping farmers maintain healthy soil.
  • New glossary definitions, including important program elements like Good Farming Practices and Section 508(h) submissions.
  • Farmer testimonials sharing how crop insurance is an indispensable part of their risk management toolkit.

Over the past year, farmers and ranchers have faced untold challenges, ranging from a global pandemic to devastating weather events. Looking forward, they’re building on decades of best farming practices to protect the soil, air and water that nurture their crops.

Rural America is resilient. But they can’t do it alone.

The strength of crop insurance has made it the cornerstone of the farm safety net. Last year a record nearly 400 million acres across America were protected by crop insurance.

Learn more about crop insurance keeps America growing by visiting CropInsurance101.org or following NCIS on Facebook and Twitter.

Crop Insurance Basics: Moral Hazard

Moral hazard is a phrase commonly used in the business community that simply means people act or perform differently when they are fully insulated from risk. An entry on the topic in Investopedia.com explained it like this:

We encounter moral hazard every day – tenured professors becoming indifferent lecturers, people with theft insurance being less vigilant about where they park, salaried salespeople taking long breaks, and so on…

The idea of a corporation being too big or too important to fail also represents a moral hazard. If the public or management of a corporation believe that the company will receive a financial bailout to keep it going, then the management may take more risks in pursuit of profit.

The term frequently surfaced during the Great Recession, with the Federal Reserve Chairman even noting, “As we try to make the financial system safer, we must inevitably confront the problem of moral hazard.”

Of course, moral hazard doesn’t just apply to investors. The concept is at the core of insurance products, including crop insurance. A driver with great insurance, a cheap premium and no deductible, for example, might drive more aggressively and be willing to file repair claims on every little scrape or ding.

That’s why auto insurance policies have deductibles and why previous accidents and claims are factored into future premium rates.

Crop insurance customers similarly share in the cost of premiums, receive rates based on past production and shoulder deductibles as a deterrent to risky behavior.

Farmers who know they will lose money by planting a crop not suitable to a specific soil or climate, will not plant that crop. Instead, they plant the best crops for their regions and work hard for a bountiful harvest while purchasing insurance protection to offer some assistance in the event that disaster strikes.

In short, farmers have little moral hazard because they share in the cost of their own safety net. And the American public appreciates this cost-sharing structure.

A recent public opinion poll of 1,000 U.S. voters found that nearly three-quarters of Americans believed that “farmers should help fund farm policies so that taxpayers are not paying the full cost.”

When respondents found out how much of the crop insurance tab farmers paid, they were also pleased. Nearly seven in 10 voters either said that farmers were being asked to pay too much or were paying the right amount of their premiums. Similarly, eight in 10 felt that the average loss deductible of 25 percent that farmers shoulder before receiving aid is about right or even too high.

Sounds like Congress got it right when lawmakers made crop insurance the centerpiece of modern-day farm policy in the 2014 Farm Bill.

USDA Chief Actuary Highlights Crop Insurance Strengths

America’s farmers and ranchers face an incredible number of risks every year, ranging from catastrophic weather events to market disruptions. That’s why rural America relies on the risk management tools provided by the Federal crop insurance program.

Dr. Thomas Worth, Chief Actuary at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Risk Management Agency, recently spoke at an Agri-Pulse forum and highlighted some of the strengths of crop insurance, especially as farmers take action to combat climate change.

Farming is a dynamic environment, Worth said. So, the Federal crop insurance program has to be dynamic as well to accurately reflect risks and help farmers adopt conservation practices.

USDA is constantly updating premium rates and analyzing data to reflect a farmer’s actual risk.

“We’re always looking at and making refinements to mapping out high risk land like flood plains” Worth cited as an example, as well as evaluating weather trends and looking at region-specific agronomics.

One way that the Federal crop insurance program is designed to incentivize practices that benefit the environment is by utilizing a farmer’s Actual Production History. This is a self-correcting feature that discounts premiums for any producer who improves their performance.

This naturally incentivizes farmers to adopt best practices and techniques for their area – and avoid practices that would harm their performance, such as planting on land not appropriate for their crop.

“Farmers are highly motivated to take measures to mitigate [their risks] and crop insurance is structured so that farmers are best off when they grow a full crop,” Worth said, calling this a “results-based discount.”

Worth pointed to cover crops as an example of one practice that is gaining popularity. The USDA recognizes cover crops as a Good Farming Practice, which encourages farmers to use cover crops to prioritize soil health and resiliency. Ultimately, the use of cover crops can help reduce risk and improve a farmer’s yields, resulting in lower crop insurance premiums.

In fact, the Journal of Environmental Management recently published a peer-reviewed study that credited crop insurance with encouraging the adoption of conservation practices, such as cover crops.

Importantly, Worth emphasized the importance of crop insurance to the farm safety net and said it plays a critical role in helping farmers adapt to the challenges of tomorrow.

“The investments needed to make a farm resilient are generally long term in nature or may take a number of years before the benefit is fully realized,” Worth said. These types of investments can be difficult to make when a farm could go under after one bad year.

“Crop insurance provides the kind of financial stability, that will enhance the ability of farmers to think long-term, and to make the investments needed to adapt and be more resilient,” Worth said.

Crop insurance is proud to work with America’s farmers and ranchers to improve conservation practices and support a healthy environment.

Celebrating the Incredible Women of Crop Insurance

Last week, as we celebrated Women in History Month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a special conversation to honor the women who work in the crop insurance industry.

Kendall Jones, chair of the National Crop Insurance Services (NCIS) and president and CEO of ProAg, and crop insurance agents and industry leaders Iris Sáenz and Pat Swanson participated in the discussion moderated by Richard Flournoy, Acting Administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.

Each of the women spoke about their careers in agriculture and the important contributions made by women in the crop insurance industry over the years.

“This industry is led by so many female agents in the field, so many female adjusters, people who do so much hard work,” Jones said. “I’m impressed with so many of the agents that I know today – not only are they running their agencies, they’re helping run farms or running the farms themselves, they have other businesses, they support the industry, their communities… They’re an inspiration to us all.”

Sáenz spoke about how women have always been key to food and farming.

“From the field to the table, women have always played an important role in agriculture. Since Indigenous tribes freely roamed these lands, women have been the primary providers of nourishment for their families and communities. Perhaps that is why many of us here today are inclined to dedicate ourselves to our agricultural communities… that is why it is so important that we, as women, come together to lift each other up.”

It’s important to honor the incredible work of the women in the crop insurance industry – and continue to share the stories of these women to inspire future generations of farmers, ranchers and agents.

Jones advised women who are just beginning their careers to be curious and take risks. Mistakes are inevitable, but with mistakes will also come successes that will build your confidence.

Swanson echoed this advice to be continually curious.

“My biggest advice to everyone… never stop learning. I feel it is so important to continue learning about your industry, about your farmers, about your customers you serve,” she said. “Never be afraid to ask questions.”

While each woman’s story and experience in agriculture has been unique, each found a fulfilling career working in the crop insurance industry and helping America’s farmers and ranchers manage their risks.

“From the cherry orchards in Michigan to the boardroom of the USDA building in Washington, DC, crop insurance has given me endless opportunities along the way,” Sáenz said.

We applaud the women of crop insurance for sharing their inspiring stories and grateful that they are helping continue the legacy of strong women in agriculture.