Disaster Policy


Disasters are an inevitable part of farming.

Federal risk management and relief programs provide crucial protection for family farms. However, farming is experiencing structural changes in ownership, products and markets, and federal disaster programs are falling behind.

RAFI-USA analyzes disaster programs based on our experience with individual farmers and federal agricultural policy.

Current disaster and risk management programs provide little or no coverage for a growing number of farms. In addition to facing disaster losses unassisted , farmers with inadequate disaster protection have trouble accessing credit and face an economic disadvantage.

Gaps in risk management have broad implications. RAFI has long advocated for the ability of farmers to transition to emerging markets for environmentally-beneficial products. These products bring a greater percentage of the food dollar back to the farm and provide environmental and health benefits to our communities. The widening gaps in federal protection create an economic disincentive for farmers making this transition, and increase the risk of losing the farm for those who do.

RAFI advocates for disaster and risk management policies that support family farmers in increasing the sustainability of their farms. Better risk management can save farms and help our changing rural economies thrive.

Why disaster policy matters

Disaster policy becomes real over the kitchen tables of farmers across North Carolina as farm families lay out their budgets and their savings, their losses, and their expected payments from crop insurance or other government programs to see whether or not they will be able keep farming. To these families, the obscure requirements of policies and regulations mean the difference between losing and preserving their future on the land.

Scott Marlow, RAFI’s Farm Sustainability Program Director explains it this way:

In September of 1999, I drove down NC 97 through Edgecombe and Halifax counties. It was the only road open into that part of the state in the days following Hurricane Floyd, and I was checking on farm families that I had been partnering with on a series of research projects. As the land rose almost imperceptibly, everything seemed as it should be with crops in the field, laundry out to dry, and few obvious scars of the storm that had raged a few days before. But as the land fell, the area resembled a battlefield. Cars were upended in ditches, houses were destroyed, fields laid waste. The line between destruction and normalcy seemed random, following contours of the land that went unnoticed in normal times.

Since 1999, we have learned a great deal about disaster and recovery. We have learned that the line between normalcy and destruction is razor-thin. So is the line between recovery and ruin. It can depend on one rise in the land or one line of fine print.

Over the next year, I worked with a series of partners to provide information to farmers and farm advisors about the range of available disaster programs. We became familiar with the look of mingled disbelief and disappointment on farmer’s faces at the end of classes on federal disaster programs. “Is that all the help there is?,” they ask. Tragically, many of the most innovative farmers who had pioneered new ways of producing and marketing saw huge amounts of money being allocated for disaster recovery, but little or none of it for them.

After each disaster, farmers spend late nights at the kitchen table, poring over piles of paperwork. Each year, more kitchen-table work sessions end with the decision to leave the farm. At RAFI, when we deal with policy and regulations, our ultimate goal is to change the view from those kitchen tables.

Finding and closing gaps in disaster preparedness policy can save farms.