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Senate Farm Bill Proposal's Key Climate Provisions for Crop Insurance

By Lara Bryant

As relentless droughts parch the Midwest and unpredictable floods wash through the Southern plains , American farmers are confronting the harsh realities of climate change on a daily basis. These environmental challenges are not just abstract statistics; they represent a pressing threat to our nation’s food security and the livelihoods of our farmers and rural communities. 

With the current five-year authorization of the Farm Bill (already extended once and set to expire again) in September 2024, the latest proposals from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees highlight starkly different visions for the future of farming in America. This blog delves into these proposals, focusing on a critical component given its implications on climate resilience: the integration of soil health and crop insurance, which could serve as a lifeline for farmers navigating these turbulent times. 

The Federal Crop Insurance Program 

The Federal Crop Insurance Program, managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the largest farm subsidy program, receiving about 9% of overall Farm Bill spending. While the program is intended to manage risk, it could be better prepared for the increasing weather-related risk from climate change. As the cost of weather-related indemnities (crop losses and payouts) rises, so has the program’s taxpayer-funded cost. But there is a straightforward solution: create incentives for risk-mitigating soil health practices within crop insurance

Soil health improvements through cover crops have been shown to reduce crop losses in drought years and reduce instances of prevented planting (the failure to plant a crop due to weather, often flooding, during the planting season). Practices like cover crops can actually lower the cost of the crop insurance program over time if enough farmers adopt the practice. Unfortunately, cover crop adoption is less than 5% across the nation, despite increased use of the practice in the last decade. Offering farmers who plant cover crops savings on their crop insurance bills will offset their costs and make it easier for farmers to adopt the practice. According to an NWF poll, this approach is favored by 78% of row crop farmers

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