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.