Prolonged drought is making it harder for many farmers to harvest robust crops. Plants are withering under hot temperatures and scarce water supplies, and farmers are paying a steep price for these changes. Drought and heat damage caused more than $17 billion worth of crop loss in 2012, and taxpayers picked up a big portion of the bill through the Federal Crop Insurance Program, or FCIP. In 2014, it was estimated that the California drought cost Central Valley farmers more than $1 billion in losses.
NRDC advocates for policies that encourage farmers to embrace drought-resistant solutions. We have been encouraging sustainable farming for decades and, in the process of working with organic farmers and large-scale growers, we have identified proven practices that build soil health to use water more efficiently. These include conservation tillage, cover crops, and crop rotation that can hold more water than conventional farming techniques while also conserving soil health.
Yet the FCIP is not built to encourage these good practices. While the program was created to help farmers manage risk, premiums are set using a formula that fails to equip them for the challenges of climate change. Instead, the program spurs farmers to make risky production decisions.
NRDC is calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reform the FCIP. We recommend that the program offer lower rates to farmers who invest in low-risk, water-smart practices like cover cropping and no-till farming. This shift would make the FCIP more fiscally sound and make America's farms more resilient to climate change.
We are also urging state and federal agricultural agencies to promote greater water efficiency. Research shows that farmers who employ drip irrigation use about 20 percent less water than traditional gravity irrigation. Adjusting the amount of water used at different stages of growth and other measures can also help farmers make the most of limited water supplies—and harvest plentiful crops in the midst of a changing climate.