MINNEAPOLIS – Ten counties in the Mississippi River basin received over $3 billion in crop insurance payments between 2001 and 2020, much of it for losses caused by extreme weather tied to the climate crisis, according to a new Environmental Working Group analysis of Department of Agriculture data.
Those counties are among the insurance payout hot spots identified by EWG’s report and its companion map, which together spotlight counties in the Mississippi River Critical Conservation Area, or MRCCA, that received large, frequent crop insurance payments from the Federal Crop Insurance Program between 2001 and 2020.
“As the climate crisis accelerates, it’s increasingly urgent that farmers adapt to the extreme weather already ravaging their fields,” said Anne Schechinger, EWG Midwest director and author of the analysis. “EWG’s report and map highlight hot spot counties where there are clear opportunities to help farmers make climate-smart decisions, like planting cover crops or retiring flood-prone land.”
Farmers in the MRCCA received $51.5 billion in crop insurance indemnities between 2001 and 2020, EWG’s analysis found. Almost 80 percent of this total, or $40.6 billion, was for the top five weather-related causes of loss, with drought and what USDA classifies as “excess moisture” responsible for the most payments by far.
USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Program is a massive initiative whose price tag has skyrocketed since the 1990s, at least in part due to more frequent and severe bouts of drought and rain linked to the climate emergency, as EWG showed in a January report.
EWG’s new report found that huge payouts went to some MRCCA counties year after year for the same causes of loss.
Even more surprisingly, many MRCCA counties received both drought and excess moisture payments in the same year. And 40 counties received both types of payments every year for 20 years in a row.
Six of the 10 hot spot counties with the highest total payments are in South Dakota, three are in Illinois and one is in Minnesota. The total amounts paid out to farmers in these counties ranged from $225.5 million in Macoupin County, Ill. to $608 million in Brown County, S.D.
The MRCCA is a USDA-designated “area of focus” that encompasses more than 387 million acres across 13 states. It’s both an agricultural corridor that includes most of the Corn Belt and an environmentally sensitive region that funnels millions of pounds of sediment and pollution into the Gulf of Mexico every year.
Billions of dollars of taxpayer money are spent annually on the Crop Insurance Program. Yet it provides little or no incentive for farmers to adapt to a rapidly changing climate or adopt climate-friendly agricultural practices.
“USDA’s Crop Insurance Program must be reformed to encourage farmers to both adapt to the climate crisis and reduce their own emissions,” Schechinger said. “Some of the astronomical financial cost of this program – and the climate cost of agriculture – could almost certainly be alleviated by better choices, like taking environmentally sensitive land permanently out production.”
EWG advocates for increased federal funding of targeted conservation practices that help farmers protect the environment, reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and better prepare them for the extreme weather that lies ahead.
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action. Visit www.ewg.org for more information.