Melissa Vatterott
Policy Director


Missouri Farmers and Environmental Advocates Plea with Congress for Crop Insurance Reform

Missouri Farmers are begging Congress to hear their cry over the noise of special interest groups: crop insurance isn’t working for them. Farmers in Missouri and beyond are eager to make their voices heard as federal legislators prepare legislative text for the 2023 Farm Bill. As they draft the 2023 Farm Bill, farmers need the House and Senate Ag Committees to understand that crop insurance reform is critical to reach the majority of Missouri’s farmers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), Missouri Coalition for the Environment and over one hundred other members of NSAC are urging Congress to hear these pleas and take needed action. 

“We work to protect Missouri’s people and their environment and part of this work includes supporting environmentally-responsible farmers who are good stewards of their land,” says Policy Director Melissa Vatterott at Missouri Coalition for the Environment. “These farmers are working hard to protect water quality, air quality, build soil health, and feed their local communities; but in the face of climate change, they continue to be beaten down without access to crop insurance.”

Through the federal farm bill, the federal government provides crop insurance to help farmers in times of crop loss or damage. However, insurance options are not the same for all farmers; in fact, some farmers can’t access the program at all. A large-scale corn or soybean producer can get financial assistance, but if a small producer were to, say, lose their entire tomato crop to floods, they are likely not to receive any support at all. These farmers feel left behind and need Congress to bring them into the fold. 

The changing temperatures throughout the winter and spring due to climate change cause disruption for many fruit and vegetable farmers. Ben Brownlow of Rutledge, Missouri near the Missouri-Iowa border says “No aspect of our tree crop operation seems to be insurable, according to my research. A sudden late frost and budbreak, or early bloom times – both increasing in frequency here – and the year’s harvest can be decimated. Unlike grain growers, there is no opportunity to replant an orchard crop in the event of poor weather.” 

Tyrean Lewis, who owns a Black-owned urban specialty crop farm in a food apartheid of St. Louis, Missouri, has felt the impacts of pests on his crops and infrastructure. He tried several organic methods to deter skunks, but nothing worked. “Out of 6,000 lbs [of watermelon] I produced, 2,500 lbs were eaten by skunks. So we’re getting an electric fence up to protect the watermelons.” The crop insurance program is not accessible for this farm and Lewis and his partners are now making significant financial investments to keep pests from destroying the farm’s crops.

When a tornado came through in 2021, Tami Hale’s 100+ year old family farm in southeast Missouri was decimated. “We didn’t have crop insurance, or insurance on our high tunnels & low tunnels, chicken coops, or water infrastructure. After the disaster, we had to take a season off to repair and rebuild and are just finally coming back partially to our production capacity from 2020-2021. We learned that the high tunnels, low tunnels, and any chicken coops that are not anchored to a foundation are uninsurable. We were able to rebuild a well house and chicken coop with a strong foundation, but the only way we are able to get back into produce farming is to build back the uninsurable infrastructure, absent any produce income, knowing it could be destroyed again.”

Peggy Ladd of southeast Missouri stresses that crop insurance leaves small herds of livestock behind. “I have a small herd of 30 bison. A drought, even a ‘mild’ one like the one in 2022, on my 150 acres, means us small farmers have to bring in hay and supplements … when the market for those is very high. And suppliers don’t waste their time with ‘small’ orders.  I received ZERO relief last year.”  

Flooding is continuing to increase in frequency and damage for farmers. Brownlow says, “We’ve witnessed record flooding in lower areas of our field and had significant losses of seedling trees themselves. Knowing that orchard crops are difficult to insure – especially under the organic management we employ – we also raise livestock on the side. Because we are a fairly small farm, we work with neighbors and small feed mills to provide quality hay and grain for our animals.” Inflation has hit Brownlow’s farm hard with the price of hay and grain. “This last year has been extremely challenging for us, financially, due to inflation of ag products and services. But whereas commodity grain growers and forage farmers can utilize insurance, emergency relief, and other subsidies, we must pay these higher prices with no option for economic support.”

Kelsey Power, who owns an urban orchard in St. Louis, Missouri, has felt the impacts of climate change on just 6,000 square feet. She said: “Solving the problem of farm consolidation and the elimination of very small farms is one key to mitigating climate change; we can’t get through the next 50 years without it. Climate change makes it even harder to be profitable as a farmer of any size, and without real support for local food systems that starts with small farmers getting access to affordable land, we just won’t have enough. We already don’t!”

As these Missourians fight to even the playing field for small farmers, they face the additional challenge of being heard when opposing voices have deeper pockets and larger platforms. 

Vatterott says, “We need federal legislators to hear our call for action. We need reforms to the crop insurance program so it can reach these farmers, incentivize climate resilient practices, and ensure the future of our food supply is protected in the decades of weather uncertainty to come.”