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Report: Soil Conservation Could Help Reduce Climate Change-Related Crop Losses

A new report says farmers are relying too much on crop insurance to manage the risks of farming, and soil conservation would be a better long-term solution.From 2001 to 2010, the Federal Crop Insurance Program averaged about $4 billion a year in payouts to farmers for lost crops. Last year, that amount was a record-breaking $17.3 billion to farmers across the country…nearly all for crops lost because of drought, heat and hot wind. More than $1.5 billion of that money went to farmers in Kentucky and Indiana.But a new reportfrom the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests an alternative to this insurance program. Because extreme weather events—like drought—are projected to increase under climate change, Agricultural Policy Analyst Claire O’Connor says it won’t make economic sense to keep relying on crop insurance. She says that means farmers should change the way they farm to reduce their risk.“And so what our proposal does, it says ‘let’s incentivize farmers to start adopting practices that not only reduce the risk of losing their crops in any year, but make them more resilient to the extreme weather we expect to see in the future,’” she says.These practices include cover cropping and no-till farming.“Both refer to practices that can build soil health,” O’Connor says. “Make soil the insurance policy. Because healthy soil can filter more water, it can retain that water and save it for when growing crops need to use it.”O’Conner says healthier soil will help crops withstand the weather variations caused by climate change, as well as have other ancillary benefits for the environment.