The 2012 drought forced the Federal Crop Insurance Program to pay
farmers a record-breaking $17.3 billion in crop losses last year, including
about $39 million for Morgan County farms that lost corn, soybeans and wheat.
Out of the 50 states, Illinois had the highest percentage of crop loss caused by drought, heat and hot wind, with 98 percent -- or $2.96 billion -- of the state's total crop insurance payouts resulting from these extreme weather impacts.
Nearly $8.4 billion of crop loss payouts were funded by taxpayers.
The non-profit international environmental advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council said much of the loss could have been prevented through water-smart strategies.
"The [Federal Crop Insurance Program] was designed to be a safety net, not a subsidy for increasingly risky practices and less-sustainable food production. We need to empower farmers to invest in low-risk, water-smart practices that are proven to reduce crop losses," said Claire O'Connor, an agricultural water policy analyst for the group.
Payments made to farmers during the 2012 growing season to cover losses from drought, heat and hot wind alone accounted for 80 percent of all farm losses, with many Upper Midwest and Great Plains states hit hardest.
From 2001 to 2010, crop losses averaged $4.1 billion a year. With extreme weather conditions such as drought expected to become more common, record-breaking insurance payouts likely will continue to increase, according to the council.
The group released a study Tuesday titled "Soil Matters: How the Federal Crop Insurance Program Should be Reformed," that said American farms, particularly in the Upper Midwest and Great Plains, were primarily affected by three major forms of extreme weather in 2012.
The report outlines solutions for a crop insurance reform pilot plan it said would build soil health to help climate-proof American farms and would reduce government and taxpayer costs by encouraging farmers to become more resistant to weather-related risks.
The pilot, which would not require legislation, would offer reduced premium rates to farmers who adopt proven soil-building management practices that sustain productive crop yields and result in greater water infiltration, less farm runoff and reduced flooding, including cover crops, conservation tillage and improved irrigation scheduling.
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