116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa farmers received $243 million in insurance payments for flooded crops between 2001 and 2020, with $83 million of that going to farmers in five Iowa counties considered “hot spots” for flood crop insurance payments, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.
That money could have instead “retired” nearly 12,000 flood-prone acres from farming — an option Iowa farmers want, but there is not enough federal money to cover the demand.
“It’s farmers who want more money for these easement programs,” said Anne Schechinger, Midwest director for the Washington, D.C., research group. “They are a win-win for the environment and farmers as well.”
A new report from the group shows nearly $1.5 billion in federal crop insurance payments went to farmers in 13 states that border the Mississippi River from 2001 to 2020.
Flooding is a major issue in the Mississippi River and Missouri River basins, as Iowa’s river communities on both sides of the state have seen recently.
Five Iowa counties — Fremont, Mahaska, Mills, Harrison, Jasper — each received more than $8 million in flood insurance payments from 2001 to 2020. Fremont, Mills and Harrison counties all border the Missouri River and the Skunk River flows through Jasper and Mahaska counties.
Farmers buy insurance against crop loss because of natural causes, such as flooding, drought, hail, wind or disease.
“Right now, the rate of subsidies is the same if you are in a high-risk area or not,” Schechinger said. High-risk areas are determined by each county and can include flood plains, she said.
The Environmental Working Group recommends reducing insurance payments to farmers for crop loss in high-risk areas as a way to discourage planting there. That money could be put toward programs that pay farmers to take vulnerable land out of production, the group said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has three programs that retire frequently flooded cropland:
- The Emergency Watershed Protection — Flood plain Easement Program retires farmland in flood plains and restores it to a natural state.
- The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program provides permanent or 30-year easements.
- The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program combines with state funding, in some states, to pay for part of easements to retire flooded cropland.
But there are many more farmers who want easements than there is funding. Farmers in fiscal 2019 applied to retire more than 408,000 acres through these easement programs, but only 9 percent of the applications were enrolled, the Environmental Working Group reported.
“In 2019, around $800 million was spent nationally for those three easement programs,” Schechinger said. “There was $10.6 billion for crop insurance payments that same year.”
Rather than putting more money into retiring vulnerable farmland, Congress has opted to increase funding for conservation practices on working farms, Schechinger said. These decisions have, in part, been influenced by national farm organizations that don’t want to take farmland out of production, she said.
Schechinger thinks it’s possible President Joe Biden’s administration will put more money toward the easement programs. Congress would need to be involved in changing crop insurance programs, which could be done through the revision of the Farm Bill, set to expire in 2023.
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