Many farm operators across the Upper Midwest are facing some crop loss in 2013, due to late and prevented planting this past spring, and now from very hot, dry weather late in the growing season in some areas. There will undoubtedly be large financial losses to some farm operators in many areas, as well as with associated businesses, and in local communities. The drop in corn prices and soybean prices, compared to recent years, will also lead to further financial loss for affected farm operators. The financial losses to corn and soybean producers in 2013 will be somewhat mitigated for farm operators that carry Federal Crop Insurance coverage.
A large percentage of the corn and soybean acres in Minnesota and Iowa carry revenue protection (RP) crop insurance policies, which protect against the combination of yield losses and price reductions during the growing season. A base revenue level is established on a farm unit using the historic average crop yield times the average crop price at the beginning of the crop insurance coverage period. For RP policies, the insurance coverage level purchased by farm operators is a percentage of that base revenue, ranging from 50% up to 85%, with most producers opting for 75% coverage or higher. The final crop revenue on the insured farm unit is the actual crop yield times the crop price at harvest time. If the actual crop revenue is lower than the guaranteed insurance coverage, a crop insurance indemnity payment is made for that crop on a specific farm unit.
The premiums paid by farm operators for crop insurance coverage are subsidized by the Federal Government, with an average subsidization rate of 62% of the total premium amount in 2011. The percentage of premium subsidy is higher at the lower coverage levels; however the premium subsidy per acre increases at higher insurance coverage levels. For example on corn in Minnesota in 2011, the percentage premium subsidy was 71% for a 60% RP insurance policy, 66% for a 75% RP policy and 49% for an 85% RP policy. The total premium subsidy averaged $32.02 per acre on a 60% RP policy, $38.30 per acre on a 75% RP policy and $41.00 on an 85% RP policy. The average insurance premiums paid by farmers in 2011 were $13.12 per acre for 60% coverage, $19.69 per acre for 75% coverage, and $42.75 per acre for 85% coverage.
As the new farm bill is being developed, some members of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and other groups have called for changes and restrictions in crop insurance subsidy levels. One proposal calls for setting all crop insurance premium subsidy levels at 50%, as compared to the current average premium subsidy level of 62%. This would increase the farmer-paid average crop insurance premiums for most crops at all insurance coverage levels, except the 85% coverage level. The higher value of most crops in recent years has greatly increased the total federal expenditures for the crop insurance premium subsidy, which has increased from just over $2.0 billion in 2002 to $7.4 billion in 2011.
Another proposal would restrict the total crop insurance premium subsidy to $40,000 per individual or farm operation. The higher crop value also means that a larger number of farm operations would reach the premium subsidy limit, if a $40,000 limit were imposed. The GAO estimated that 33,690 farm operators would hit that limit, based on 2011 data. Based on average 2011 premiums in Minnesota, 952 acres of corn or 1,487 acres of soybeans would reach the $40,000 limit with 80% RP insurance policies. This would mean that a typical corn and soybean crop operation of 1,100-1,200 acres could likely reach the $40,000 limit, which is certainly not a large operation by today’s standards.
Other proposed crop insurance changes would restrict crop insurance premium subsidies to any individual or entity with an adjusted gross income (AGI) over $750,000 per year. Some have even suggested reducing the AGI threshold as low as $250,000. Using a means test, such as a $750,000 or $250,000 AGI limit for having subsidized crop insurance available would set a precedent, since no other federally subsidized insurance programs have such a means test. Using a means test may also be quite complicated and expensive to administrate. Some farm operations may be forced to change farm business structures from family partnerships and corporations in order to stay eligible for crop insurance, if this type of approach is enacted.
Crop insurance is not only a key risk-management tool for corn, soybean and wheat producers, but also for producers of sweet corn, peas, potatoes and other vegetable crops, and newer ventures such as apples or grapes. Over 90% of the corn and soybean acres in Minnesota and Iowa are insured by some type of crop insurance policy.
Crop insurance only makes payments when losses occur due yield reductions or lower prices. In Minnesota, total crop insurance indemnity payments for a given year have only exceeded total premiums once, in 2004, in the past 15 years (1998-2012) prior to 2013. In Iowa the total indemnity payments have exceeded premiums twice in the same 15-year period, in 2008 and in the drought year of 2012. In fact, total indemnity payments for a given year have been less than 50% of total premiums for nine years in Iowa and for eight years in Minnesota, out of the 15 total years.
The availability of affordable crop insurance is also very important to ag lenders that are funding farm operations. The premium subsidies help keep desirable levels of crop insurance affordable for producers of all sizes, and for a wide variety of crops. Sharp crop insurance premium increases, or restrictions in access to insurance coverage, could affect availability of ag credit in the future, especially for younger farm operators with a high amount of rented crop land. Fortunately, as a new farm bill is being finalized, many members of Congress and most agricultural leaders support maintaining a strong crop insurance program as the centerpiece of a risk protection program for U.S. crop producers.