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Crop failed? There’s insurance for that

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Tess Vigeland: Congress left for its summer vacation without coming up with a drought relief package for farmers and ranchers.

But that doesn’t mean they’re all left high and dry. A lot of farmers are going to get help from crop insurance. And that could put a crimp in the bottom line of insurance companies — and taxpayers. Marketplace’s Adriene Hill explains.

Adriene Hill: Corn is supposed to be green and tall this time of year.

It’s not.

Doug Yoder: It’s brown.

Doug Yoder is with the Illinois Farm Bureau. He says it’s brown and/or short, depending on where you are.

But scrawny plants don’t always add up to scrawny paychecks. Most corn and soybean farmers — and we’re talking big-scale farmers here — have crop insurance. The feds pick up a big part of the tab, farmers pay the rest.

Yoder: Anybody that drops a seed in the ground and hopes to make a living on that, you’re accustomed to taking risks. But there are also limits to those risks that you can take, and we’ll be testing those limits this year. There’s no doubt about it.

Crops and farmers aren’t the only ones getting stressed. Insurance adjustors are about to get really, really busy, driving from one sad field to another.

Tom Zacharias: They’re going to be long days, this will be a 24/7 process for a while, simply due to the volume of claims that we’ll see.

Tom Zacharias heads National Crop Insurance Services, an industry group. He says it’s too early to know what the drought will cost — but we’re talking billions. Which is likely to mean the first loss for crop insurers in a decade and another cost for taxpayers.

Zacharias: The insurance companies and the USDA have what’s known as a reinsurance agreement.

That’s basically insurance for insurance companies.

Zacharias: And both parties share in the underwriting gains as well as the underwriting losses.

This year, that’ll be losses.

I’m Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

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