Crop insurance basics — cost sharing

National Crop Insurance Services
Farm Forum

Federal crop insurance is arguably the first farm policy in history that is financed, in part, by the farmers who benefit from it. Unlike farm policies of the past, which were 100 percent backed by taxpayers, modern-day farm policy requires growers to take an active role in sharing the financial costs of protecting America’s crops and livestock for a vibrant food supply.

The concept may be new to farm policy, but it’s not new to insurance. From the earliest shipping insurance at Lloyds of London in the late 1600s to the modern auto policy acquired instantly via a smartphone app, the principle is the same.

A customer pays a premium to an insurance company based on the value of property and predicted risks to insure its worth. If the property is damaged, the customer absorbs a portion of the loss, called a deductible, and the insurance company covers the remainder through an indemnity payment.

The deductible acts as a deterrent to risky behavior and keeps the insurance policy intact for true disasters. Meanwhile, premium dollars paid by customers fund the system that provides peace of mind.

The larger the pool of customers, the more risk can be spread, and the less expensive coverage becomes for all. The same applies to crop insurance, which is why arbitrarily excluding some farmers from participation or adjusting premiums without research-backed justification is not only a bad idea, but economically and actuarially unsound.

Today, famers collectively pay between $3.5 billion and $4 billion a year out of their own pockets in crop insurance premiums. And they absorb hefty deductibles (on average, 25 percent of loss) when disaster hits. In other words, they have a financial stake in the system, which ensures farmers are avoiding unnecessary risk and incentivized to embrace new technologies and techniques that drive efficiency and mitigate losses.

Famers utilize crop insurance because it offers predictability for marketing and for borrowing capital, and because it gives them the opportunity to tailor protection to their farms’ unique needs. Taxpayers reap the benefits, too.

That’s because in addition to farmers helping to offset costs, private-sector insurers are also investing dollars into the system. Crop insurance companies, for example, invest millions in new technologies, training, research, data collection, analytics, and customer service to keep things running smoothly.

And when Mother Nature strikes, companies often dig into their own reserves to keep farmers whole. For example, insurers experienced a $1.3 billion underwriting loss during the 2012 drought because indemnities paid outstripped premiums received.

Put simply, farmers, insurers, and the government must work together to fund crop insurance and ensure it can meet the challenges of tomorrow — from climate change to volatile markets.