The crop insurance program provides critical protections for farmers. Often called the farm “safety net,” the program started in 1930s when many farms were decimated by the Dust Bowl and low commodity prices, as a way of protecting American farmers from the uncertainties of weather and market fluctuations.
Today, crop insurance is the single largest agricultural subsidy program in the federal budget. The federal government subsidizes both farmers and the companies that insure them. Less than 20 corporations receive subsidies to cover the operating costs of offering insurance, while farmers receive premium subsidies that average nearly two-thirds of the cost of that insurance.
Meanwhile, diversified and organic farms have trouble accessing insurance, and must tackle mountains of paperwork before they can even qualify.
At the same time, by greatly reducing the economic risk to conventional farmers through crop insurance subsidies, the federal government has inadvertently created incentives for farmers to buy up and farm more land, including sensitive wetlands. That concentration of resources also disadvantages new farmers who cannot compete for farmland with those receiving subsidies.
Crop insurance is an important tool for protecting farmers, but common sense reforms are needed to protect beginning farmers looking to access land and credit, encourage environmental stewardship, and remove disincentives to innovation and diversified farming.
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