ERS Charts of Note

Subscribe to get highlights from our current and past research, Monday through Friday, or see our privacy policy.

Get the latest charts via email, or on our mobile app for Download the Charts of Note app on Google Play and Download the Charts of Note app on the App Store


Crop insurance indemnities and disaster assistance payments reflect the impact of drought on crop farms

Friday, February 28, 2014

Drought is the leading single cause of production losses to crop farms, followed by excess moisture, hail, freezes, and heat. Over the past four decades, a portion of the farm losses from all these weather-related causes have been covered by a combination of crop insurance and disaster assistance payments. Over this period, crop insurance has gradually grown in significance and is now a major component of the Federal safety net for crop farmers. The rise in total insurance indemnity payments is due to a combination of expanded enrollment in crop insurance, increased liabilities due to higher yields and commodity prices, and a series of major droughts in recent decades, capped by the 2012 drought. More than 80 percent of the acres of major field crops planted in the United States are now covered by Federal crop insurance, which can help to mitigate yield or revenue losses for covered farms. Droughts also have a major impact on livestock producers, principally through their effect on feed prices. (The accompanying chart does not include livestock-related assistance or pasture/rangeland indemnity payments.) This chart updates one found in The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.

Contract changes improve convergence of futures and cash prices for soft red winter wheat

Friday, January 24, 2014

Futures markets play an important role in price discovery (determination of prices through the interaction of market supply and demand) for major agricultural commodities, and provide a tool for growers, traders, and processors to mitigate risk. For futures markets to perform these functions effectively, the price of a commodity held in a futures contract must match (or “converge”) with its price in the cash—or spot—market when the futures contract expires. During 2005-2011, cash and futures prices for soft red winter (SRW) wheat failed to converge to the generally acceptable “basis”—or difference between the cash price and futures price—of plus or minus $0.10/bushel. At times the basis exceeded $1.00/bushel. In response, the futures exchanges modified their SRW contracts to better align contract terms with changes occurring in cash markets for factors including storage rates, major delivery locations for SRW, and quality specifications. Following these changes, cash and futures market prices for SRW have moved closer together, improving the effectiveness of futures contracts in determining prices and as a tool to manage risk. This chart is based on Recent Convergence Performance of Futures and Cash Prices for Corn, Soybeans, and Wheat, FDS-13L-01, released December 30, 2013.

Crop insurance indemnities rise with drought

Friday, November 22, 2013

Federal crop insurance has become a key component of producer risk management in the United States. Producers participate by purchasing policies from private insurance companies to cover possible losses on the commodities they expect to harvest in a particular crop year, with premium rates set by the Federal Government. Most producers choose revenue loss policies, which cover potential losses to both their average yield and the expected price of the commodity at harvest. The Federal Government pays a share of the producer’s premium. In most years, total premiums (including both the producer and government shares) have been above indemnities (outlays for losses). Severe drought and other weather losses in 2011 and 2012 caused indemnities to rise above premiums in those years. In any given year, individual producers may pay more for their premium than they receive in indemnities, but even in years of low losses, total indemnities have been higher than the premiums paid by producers. For additional information, see the Risk Management topic pages.

Non-converging futures and cash prices likely due to storage-rate difference

Friday, August 30, 2013

From 2005 to 2010, the prices of expiring U.S. grain futures contracts routinely exceeded the corresponding delivery market cash prices. This phenomenon, termed “non-convergence,” was particularly noteworthy in wheat markets. By appearing to simultaneously imply different prices for the same grain, non-convergence can create market uncertainty. What explains this phenomenon? When grain futures contracts expire, the seller gives the buyer a certificate that can be exchanged for a specific amount of grain, rather than transferring the actual physical commodity. Because the buyer can hold these certificates indefinitely, they provide a method to store grain, and futures exchanges charge the buyer a recurring certificate storage fee. During 2005-2010, market conditions often led the price of storing the physical commodity to exceed certificate storage fees, so expiring futures contracts became a more attractive way to store grain than holding physical grain in a warehouse. As a result, the same grain became more valuable when represented by an expiring futures contract, so the price of futures contracts rose above cash market grain prices. Addressing the divergence in storage rates is the most effective way to prevent future episodes of non-convergence. This chart is from ”Solving the Commodity Markets’ Non-Convergence Puzzle,” in ERS’s August 2013 Amber Waves magazine.

Emergency haying and grazing on land in the CRP peaked in 2012

Friday, August 23, 2013

USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) engages farmers in long-term (10- to 15-year) contracts to establish conservation covers on environmentally sensitive land. As of June 2013, about 27 million acres of farmland were enrolled in the program. An important provision within CRP is that under certain circumstances, farmers can utilize their CRP lands for managed or emergency haying and grazing. The haying and grazing of CRP land can provide important benefits to farmers, particularly during major droughts when other sources of livestock feed are scarce, and, if done correctly, can also improve the environmental value of the conservation covers. During the 2012 drought, farmers conducted emergency haying and grazing on almost 2.8 million acres and managed haying and grazing on another 700,000 acres. This chart is found in the Amber Waves article, “The Role of Conservation Program Design in Drought-Risk Adaptation,” July 2013.

Simulating the interactions between climate adaptation and conservation program design

Monday, May 20, 2013

Farmers can adapt to their local climate in many ways, including through participation in USDA programs. In regions of the country that face higher levels of drought risk, farmers are more likely to offer eligible land for enrollment in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). As a consequence, CRP is both more competitive in these regions and drought-prone counties are more likely to face a binding CRP acreage enrollment cap. When counties are near their enrollment cap, farms are less likely to offer eligible land for CRP because those offers are less likely to be accepted for enrollment. In simulations of offer rates based on observed historical data, a national increase in the county CRP acreage enrollment cap to 35 percent of cropland in each county (from the current level of 25 percent), results in more offers from eligible farmers in drought prone regions of the Great Plains and the Intermountain West. This map is found in the ERS report, The Role of Conservation Programs in Drought Risk Adaptation, ERR-148, April 2013.

Climate change projected to increase cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Recent ERS research explored how climate change could affect the cost of the Federal Crop Insurance Program (FCIP). Researchers trained statistical models to predict crop yields from historical weather data, and used weather simulations from climate models to build scenarios showing how yields might respond to climate change. Economic models then simulated how farmers and markets might respond to changes in weather and yields. The study explored potential impacts in the year 2080, and compared climate scenarios arising from different projections of greenhouse gas emissions levels to a hypothetical future with climate similar to that of the past several decades. Under the scenario with moderate emissions reductions, in which farmers adapt to changes in climate with adjustments to what they plant, where they plant it, and how they manage it, the cost of today’s FCIP would be on average about 3.5 percent higher than under a future with a climate similar to that of the recent past. Under the scenario in which emissions trends continue, the cost of FCIP would increase by an average of 22 percent. The estimated increases in the cost of FCIP are an average across the climate models shown in the chart—some models are more optimistic, while others more pessimistic. Cost estimates are higher in scenarios with no adaptation. This chart appears in the ERS report, Climate Change and Agricultural Risk Management Into the 21st Century, released July 2019.