Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, which devastated parts of Florida, Texas and the Gulf Coast, also hit some of the nation’s least-insured crops, based on data the US Department of Agriculture released in a report. Nationwide, only 16% of peppers and 2% of strawberries, both key Florida products, are covered by insurance.
“Extreme weather events are coming more often, and farmers do need tools”, said Krysta Harden, a former deputy secretary of the USDA, who’s now the chief sustainability officer and vice president for public policy for the agriculture division of DowDuPont.
“Crop insurance helps them deal with these extreme weather patterns. The need for it is increasing,” she said. US-backed crop insurance, which paid out a record $17.5bn (€14.6bn) after a drought hit the Midwest in 2012, has become the main government protection for farmers against weather damage.
While plantings of crops like cotton are 100% covered by the government programme, produce has lagged behind, with only 34% of vegetable acreage covered and many less-common products not covered by the programme at all. In some instances, farmers have chosen not to get insurance. In others, the offerings are limited: Strawberries are only covered through a small pilot programme.
“Rare events can make it more challenging to develop policies, but we have very long records of hurricane strikes in the US,” said Tom Worth, chief actuary for the USDA’s crop-insurance programme. “One year is not the driver, but we’re learning more about the risks.”