New legislation will expand access to crop insurance and commitment to conservation

Rep. Rick Nolan, D-MN, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee’s General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, recently introduced the Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition strongly supports Nolan’s bill, which would expand access to risk management tools to currently underserved farmers (e.g., specialty crop, livestock, beginning, organic and direct to consumer farmers) and create a stronger link between federal risk management programs and conservation priorities.

“The federal crop insurance program is a major component of the farm safety net,” said Paul Wolfe, NSAC senior policy specialist. “Currently, however, the program fails to adequately support many types of farmers, crops and growing practices. It also lacks a strong connection to conservation activities, which are an inherent part of risk management because they make a farm operation more resilient long-term. NSAC thanks Nolan for championing the Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018 and for his leadership in strengthening the farm safety net.”

Currently, less than 50 percent of farms with more than $10,000 in revenue have crop insurance. This means that not only are many smaller-scale operations being left out but that the program is also not providing medium and larger-scale operations with the policies or the risk management tools they need.

The Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018 will improve access to the federal crop insurance program for beginning farmers, farmers with diverse crops and enterprises, specialty crop operations, organic farmers, farmers using non-wholesale markets and other underserved farmers by:

Expanding premium discounts for beginning farmers.

Streamlining the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program to better serve diversified family farmers.

Requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency to study the barriers to accessing crop insurance, particularly by beginning and socially disadvantaged producers and to identify options for expanded access.

This legislation will also advance conservation by promoting greater consistency and coordination between RMA and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Disconnects between the policies of RMA and NRCS have resulted in farmers having to choose between risk management protection and conservation activities that are acknowledged by NRCS (and many others) to be a crucial part of “good farming practices”. The Crop Insurance Modernization Act of 2018 will eliminate these inter-agency disconnects and strengthen the connection between risk management and conservation by:

Ensuring that a farmer’s crop insurance coverage will not be rescinded or put at risk due to their use of cover crops or other NRCS approved conservation practices.

Launching a pilot program that rewards farmers who undertake risk-reducing conservation activities.

Funding and standardizing conservation compliance monitoring procedures across states.

“USDA’s policies on crop insurance and conservation have been working at cross purposes for too long,” said Wolfe. “We must break down the institutional silos that prevent farmers from fully utilizing recognized conservation practices as part of their risk management strategies. This legislation from Congressman Nolan will lead to greater consistency at USDA and greater resilience for American farmers.”