Climate Change Could Send Cost of Crop Insurance Soaring

Dec 1, 2014

Climate change could double losses to crops and property by the year 2100 according to a recent report from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office. 

When farmers lose more crops, it costs taxpayers more to subsidize their crop insurance.

Chris Anderson, assistant director of Iowa State University’s Climate Science Program, says farmers can work to adapt to wetter springs and hotter summers. Such weather events, which have been considered anomalies in the early 2000s, are likely to become the norm by mid-century. But he says farmers will have to weigh the costs of building up resilience to a changing climate against other farm expenses.

“That’s where this thinking has to happen,” Anderson said, “is understanding how to be creative about funding those climate adaptation measures.”

What’s more, Anderson says the current crop insurance program is designed to help farmers on a year-to-year basis, not over the long term. The GAO report found that system could inadvertently serve as a disincentive for farmers to implement long-term strategies.  

But Anderson says changing crop insurance to help farmers adapt to climate change would mean turning it into a hazard mitigation program. And that would be expensive, at least in the short run.

“If crop insurance were expanded to keep farmers in business for the next decade, or two decades, as they pay for adapting to climate change,” Anderson said, “then the exposure of public funding for that program would grow immensely.”

Anderson says farmers can put in new ponds and use cover crops to help prevent future losses. But they may not see a return on those investments for many years. And the GAO report stops short of suggesting that such adaptation strategies become a prerequisite for subsidized crop insurance.