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Mountain West farms receive billions for crop losses linked to climate change

An aerial view of a dirt road running through a valley with alfalfa fields in Northern Nevada.
Adobe Stock
Farmland in the Southwestern U.S., such as this alfalfa field in Northern Nevada, is increasingly vulnerable to crop losses and damages due to extreme heat, according to a new Environmental Working Group study.

A new report shows the federal government is paying billions of dollars to farmers who are losing crops to extreme weather – and the payouts keep growing.

From 2001 to 2022, U.S. farms received nearly $120 billion in crop insurance after climate-related crop failures, according to the nonpartisan Environmental Working Group. It analyzed losses due to drought, floods, hail, heat and freeze.

In the Mountain West, farms received more than $3.5 billion in crop insurance, largely due to drought. More than two-thirds of the total – or $2.4 billion – went to farmers in Colorado. That was followed by farms in Idaho ($596 million), New Mexico ($342 million), Wyoming ($154 million), Utah ($44 million) and Nevada ($17 million).

Texas farmers received the largest share in the nation, more than $15 billion.

“These payments have been very large, and they have increased over time, in part due to climate change,” said Anne Schechinger, an agricultural economist who authored the report. “And we know that the climate crisis will lead to larger payments in the future as well.”

That hurts taxpayers, who largely fund the federal crop insurance program. Payouts in each extreme weather category more than doubled between 2001 and 2022, with heat-related payments spiking tenfold.

Schechinger said the upcoming farm bill is an opportunity for Congress to reform the program. She recommends encouraging farmers to use climate-friendly practices, such as planting more cover crops and tilling less land.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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