The environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council Tuesday said an improved emphasis on soil health in crop insurance programs could have minimized crop insurance losses from the 2012 drought.
The idea is based on a recently unveiled study prepared by NRDC that found 80% of crop insurance payments made to farmers during the 2012 growing season were the result of heat, drought or hot wind.
The group suggested also that such weather events will become more common in the future, estimating that soil management practices such as no-till and cover crops could help limit the effects of extreme weather events.
NRDC policy analyst Claire O'Connor, author of the study, said weather challenges could be avoided by improving soil health; more resilient soil can hold and filter more water, meaning the difference between profit and loss, she added.
But the Federal Crop Insurance Program, O'Connor argued, doesn't take soil health and subsequent water efficiency into account.
"The Federal Crop Insurance program charges farmers using a fixed formula that ignores the importance of how farmers are managing their fields," O'Connor said in a conference call Tuesday. In contrast, the NRDC said it is preparing plans for a pilot program that would take roll soil preservation practices into account.
Crop insurance-soil improvement pilot program
The plan, O'Connor said, would offer reduced premium rates to farmers who adopt "proven soil-building management practices" that sustain productive crop yields and result in greater water infiltration, less farm runoff and reduced flooding. It would not require legislation, but would be voluntary, NRDC noted.
The plan would also work in concert with proposed conservation compliance measures currently surfacing in farm bill negotiations.