Last Updated 12/1/2020
Issue: Crop insurance is an important risk management tool available to farmers and ranchers to help protect them against declines in crop yields and/or revenue. Crop insurance is divided into two categories, the federally subsidized multiple-peril crop insurance and the state-regulated private crop insurance. In 2018, nearly $10.1 billion in premiums were written for multiple-peril crop insurance and over $1 billion in premiums were written for private crop insurance.
Multiple-peril crop insurance (MPCI)
In 1938, to help agriculture recover from the combined effects of the Great Depression and severe dust storms (the Dust Bowl), Congress passed the Federal Crop Insurance Act which established the first federal crop insurance program. The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC), a wholly owned corporation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was created to carry out the federal crop insurance program.
Before the federal crop insurance program was established, private insurers had difficulty providing affordable insurance products because of the inherent risks and potential for widespread catastrophic losses associated with agricultural production. The FCIC was created with three objectives in mind: "(a) to protect the income of farmers against crop failure or price collapse; (b) to protect consumers against shortage of food supplies and extreme prices; and (c) to assist business and employment by providing an even flow of farm supplies and establishing stable farm buying power."
Over the years, the size and scope of the federal crop insurance program has expanded dramatically. The passage of the Federal Crop Insurance Act of 1980 encouraged participation by authorizing a subsidy for premiums. The Federal Crop Insurance Act of 1980 also added coverage for additional crops and regions of the country. Natural disasters precipitated ad hoc disaster assistance bills in 1988, 1989, 1992 and 1993. Participation in the program drastically increased with the passage of the Federal Crop Insurance Reform Act of 1994 which increased subsidies and made coverage mandatory for certain benefits previously offered for free. In 1996 the requirement for mandatory enrollment was lifted and the USDA created the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to operate and manage the FCIC. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 modified the legislation to reduce the overall cost and create a permanent disaster assistance program.
The federal crop insurance program was most recently reformed with the 2018 Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill made improvements to product pricing through use of additional USDA data, including data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA). The Bill also expanded coverage options to specialty crops including industrial hemp and expanded coverage to include farm operations in multiple counties. In addition, the Bill created a Veteran Farmer or Rancher category to allow for additional benefits to Veterans. An overview of the 2018 Farm Bill can be found here.
Prior to the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79, the 2014 Farm Bill) made major changes in commodity programs, adding new crop insurance options and expanding programs for specialty crops, organic farmers, bioenergy and rural development. The 2014 farm bill also introduced new products, including Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) and the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX)-to help producers expand their protection against losses due to natural disasters or price declines.
MPCI covers a broad range of perils (e.g., drought, excessive moisture, freeze, disease and other natural causes) and must be purchased before planting begins. MPCI does not cover damages to farm infrastructure, such as grain bins and livestock barns. For a company to write federal MPCI, they must sign a Standard Reinsurance Agreement (SRA), which is a contract between the company and the FCIC which establishes the terms and conditions the FCIC will provide subsidies and reinsurance on eligible crop insurance contracts sold by that company. The RMA provides an annual list of the Approved Insurance Providers here.
On August 10th, 2020, a derecho hit Iowa and caused nearly $6 billion in federally-insured corn and soybean liability, making it potentially one of the most damaging storm events on record, according to RMA.
By contrast, crop/hail insurance is coverage offered by the private market and regulated by the state insurance departments. It covers a narrower variety of perils, such as hail and fire, and is not reinsured by the FCIC. Some of the advantages of crop/hail are the availability, as many different companies offer the product, and the flexibility, as it may be purchased at any time during the growing season.
Background on: Crop Insurance
Insurance Information Institute
Federal Crop Insurance: Background
Congressional Research Service (updated May 10, 2018)
Federal Crop Insurance: Specialty Crops (Congressional Research Service, updated Jan. 2019)
Crop and Livestock Insurance
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Manager - Research and Actuarial Department