Report: How to Support Smarter, More Resilient Farms—and Save Billions

Federal Crop Insurance Could Empower Farmers, Save Resources and Prepare for the Future

WASHINGTON — Growing food in America is risky business, but a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) points to a few key reforms to the federal crop insurance program could help farmers manage risk — and bring huge environmental benefits.

The report, Covering Crops: How Federal Crop Insurance Program Reforms Can Reduce Costs, Empower Farmers, and Protect Natural Resources, suggests several reforms to the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) that would aid farmers pursuing smart, time-tested risk management practices.

“Crop insurance plays a major role in shaping the way agriculture looks in this country,” said Claire O’Connor, the daughter of a fifth generation Nebraska farmer and a senior attorney with NRDC's water and agriculture program. “This vital program can and should support farmers who are protecting the health of their soil with crop diversity and cover crops.”

The Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP) — an important component of the Farm Bill up for debate in Congress early next year — covers more than 80 percent of all U.S. cropland and forms the basis of our country’s “farm safety net.”

Recommendations include:

  • Removing the yield exclusion option to reward climate-friendly farming 
  • Reforming prevented planting rules to ensure fields don’t lie fallow
  • Supporting farmers who plant cover crops
  • Making it easy for farmers to insure a diverse set of crops

“In certain cases, crop insurance can tie farmers' hands,” said Lara Bryant, an NRDC soil health fellow who grew up on a Tennessee farm. “By allowing farmers to invest in the health of their soil and adapt to changing conditions, the FCIP could build a more sustainable agricultural system, and probably make a lot of farmers happy.”

Covering Crops also finds that the federal crop insurance program is likely to become increasingly costly under a changing climate as weather events like drought and flooding become more frequent and more extreme.  From 2012 to 2016 the program cost an average of $9.2 billion annually, up from $5.1 billion from 2006 to 2010.  Practices such as planting cover crops and cultivating a diversity of crops would better protect farms from unpredictable weather.

“These reforms would help make our food supply and crop insurance itself more sustainable,” O’Connor said. “We’ll need this program far into the future. In an increasingly volatile climate, it must be affordable and it must work for farmers.”

A recent example of FCIP working to support climate-resilient practices is the model program launched in Iowa this fall, which will offer “good farmer” discounts on crop insurance to farmers who plant cover crops this season.

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.


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