Ag Policy: Disaster Programs and Interactions with Crop Insurance

    Photo: Michigan State University

    Crop insurance has evolved with the goal of insuring a large share of acres to reduce demand for ad hoc disaster assistance.  One of the primary goals of crop insurance is to help farmers manage risks and cover losses in the crop year, thereby eliminating the need for either standing or ad hoc disaster programs.

    Despite widespread use of crop insurance on many crops, and efforts by the United States Department of Agriculture, Risk Management Agency (RMA) to expand crops and livestock covered by Federal crop insurance, ad hoc disaster assistance programs have been available for all crop years from 2017 to 2021 to support farmers suffering crop losses due to natural disasters.

    Yesterday we presented disaster assistance background for commodity program crops and information on the new Emergency Relief Program (see farmdoc dailyJune 6, 2022). In this article we discuss two key issues relative to disaster assistance programs and crop insurance: 1) crop insurance already covers natural disasters and 2) standing disaster assistance program programs may discourage crop insurance use.

    Crop Insurance Coverage in Natural Disaster Situations

    Federal crop insurance, part of the existing farm safety net, has a policy objective of providing assistance for declines in yield or price over a crop’s production period. For many crops, farmers have a choice of whether they insure with yield or revenue insurance. Farmers who purchase crop insurance receive an indemnity payment when crop yields or revenues decline beyond the coverage level, including disaster related loss situations.

    The RMA has tracked cause of loss for crop insurance claims since 1991, publicly available in the Summary of Business Cause of Loss Historical Data Files. In addition to natural disaster causes of loss, there are other causes that can mostly be classified as various biological detriments, other adverse occurrences, and price declines.

    In most years since 1991, drought and excess moisture alone have accounted for about two-thirds of the total causes of loss, by both the number of policies indemnified and the distribution of indemnity dollars (See Figure 1). Although the past five years have been among the wettest and driest years in history in specific regions of the country, related claims have not been out of the historical norm in that time.

    Note that crop insurance already provides coverage for any natural disaster that causes yield or revenue losses. By design, WHIP+ and ERP simply add to that revenue or yield coverage.

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    Legislative action to provide disaster assistance and the design of the programs to expand coverage levels for insured crops and include uninsured crops in disaster areas raises questions about is covered under farm bill commodity programs and crop insurance, what is lacking, and what changes may be made in the next farm bill.

    For crops that are already part of the crop insurance program, providing a higher coverage level could be accomplished as opposed to a separate disaster assistance program.

    For crops not included in the current crop insurance program, their inclusion in Wildfires and Hurricanes Protection Plus (WHIP+) program and Emergency Relief Program (ERP) could be a signal for desire to include additional crops as traditional program commodities.

    Crop Insurance Coverage Options & Interactions

    Disaster assistance programs that build on crop insurance obviously have linkages to crop insurance.  Those linkages could, in fact, discourage crop insurance use. Farmers already may have a coverage level in mind when they make decisions. If a disaster assistance program provides a coverage level above that desired level, farmers may in fact cut their insurance coverage when making future crop insurance decisions.

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    In addition, the disaster program should be designed in a way that does not negate the coverage level offered by crop insurance.  A prime example of this issue relates to both WHIP+ and ERP and coverage factors for crop insurance policies with 80% or higher coverage levels.  The ERP (and WHIP+) have a 95% coverage factor for both 80% and 85% crop insurance coverage levels.

    Therefore, a farmer with a qualifying natural disaster loss will receive the same net benefit (crop insurance payments + ERP payments – premium cost) regardless of if 80% or 85% coverage level was purchased initially with the crop insurance policy.

    This reality would likely influence farmers to purchase the lower cost 80% coverage level when making future crop insurance decisions. The same would be true if an individual purchased SCO and ECO.


    Disaster assistance programs will have inter-relationships with crop insurance.  Specifically, disaster assistance programs will cover the same causes of loss as those covered by crop insurance, and the presence of disaster assistance programs could reduce purchases of crop insurance.  Improper design of a permanent disaster assistance program could offset coverage offered by crop insurance.

    Although effort has been made to reduce interactions and overlap with crop insurance through subtraction of indemnity payments and consideration of policy costs in ERP payments, complications in program design and interactions that could disincentivize use of higher coverage crop insurance policies still exist.

    Although producers may still consider purchasing higher coverage policies, the growing prevalence of natural disaster conditions and expansion of qualifying natural disaster coverages in ERP, make it more likely that lower cost policy options could result in equivalent net benefit. This sets the stage for a relevant policy discussion that will be presented in the farmdoc daily article next Tuesday.

    Krista SwansonGary SchnitkeyJonathan Coppess, Nick Paulson, and Carl Zulauf

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