Crop insurance, a taxpayer-funded program that started out in 1938 as a way for farmers to ride out droughts, floods and pest infestations, has quietly been transformed into one of the biggest drivers of how cropping is carried out in this country. And in many ways that's bad news. Today's crop insurance rewards farming of environmentally sensitive land and is a key mechanism for consolidating an increasing number of acres in the hands of a few megaproducers.
As discussion over the next federal Farm Bill heats up, it's become clear that commodity groups, agribusiness firms and insurance companies want crop insurance to become an even bigger factor in American agriculture. Farming is inherently risky, given the vagaries of weather and markets, and that's part of the reason programs like crop insurance were created. But there's a difference between cushioning the blow and fueling endeavors that have widespread negative consequences.
The Land Stewardship Project and other sustainable agriculture groups want a crop insurance program that requires conservation compliance, better targets affordable policies to the farmers who need them, and stops discriminating against beginning farmers.