Press Release

Welch Introduces ‘WEATHER’ Act, the First Step in Creating a New Insurance Program for Farmers to Protect Against Extreme Weather Events

Dec 5, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – On December 5, Senator Peter Welch (D-Vt.) led Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in introducing the Withstanding Extreme Agricultural Threats by Harvesting Economic Resilience (WEATHER) Act, legislation that calls for the development of an index-based insurance policy that is more responsive to crop and income losses faced by farmers as a result of extreme weather to better serve farms so vital to Vermont.

“As we saw during this summer’s brutal floods in Vermont, the consequences of extreme weather events vary from farm to farm. That’s why it’s critical that crop insurance policies are designed to comprehensively address crop and income losses, especially for small farms so crucial to Vermont,” said Sen. Welch. “My WEATHER Act works to reinvent crop insurance as a worthy investment for Vermont farmers by calling for the implementation of an index-based insurance policy that more adequately compensates farmers for extreme weather-related income losses. This bill works to ensure that all Vermont farmers whose livelihoods have been impacted by extreme weather are given essential resources they need to recover.” 

“Farmers in Vermont have faced a year like no other in recent memory, from the early growing season frost, to the July flooding, to the endless rain all summer and fall,” said Sen. Sanders. “Unfortunately, the current federal crop insurance options are simply not workable for many of the small and diversified farms we have in Vermont. In the face of more intense and unpredictable weather due to climate change, the federal government must step up to support farmers, food producers, and small businesses. The WEATHER Act is an important step in ensuring the Federal Crop Insurance Program can respond to the needs of farmers in Vermont and across the northeast.” 

“Massachusetts’ farmers labor to put healthy food on our plates, but climate change-induced extreme weather makes that job incredibly difficult,” said Sen. Markey. “Our small and diversified farmers need protection when extreme weather, like the catastrophic flooding we saw this year, hits. That is why I am proud to cosponsor the WEATHER Act, which will lay the groundwork for a better crop insurance program – one that will meaningfully and quickly help farmers when they need it most.”   

“For years, I’ve sounded the alarm that uninsured farmers need aid to rebuild from floods and other extreme weather events, especially since these crops are their livelihood,” said Sen. Warren. “The WEATHER Act begins to solve this problem by reimbursing farmers automatically if an extreme weather event occurs, rather than the current system that imposes a large administrative burden on farmers, systematically disadvantaging family-run diversified farms.” 

“The WEATHER Act of 2023, introduced by Senators Welch, Sanders, Markey, and Warren is a thoughtfully and carefully crafted proposal that would direct the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to collaboratively research and develop an index-based insurance policy designed to support farmers in withstanding agricultural income losses closely correlated with weather conditions—including severe weather or growing conditions applicable to small-scale farmers”, said David Howard, Policy Development Director for the National Young Farmers Coalition. “Young farmers across the country are dealing with the increasingly destructive impacts of the climate crisis on their farms every day. As farmers struggle to rebuild from hurricanes and record-breaking heat waves, and producers throughout the West manage extreme drought and the constant threat of wildfire, it is clear that the impacts of the climate crisis on U.S. agriculture are increasingly severe and demand immediate policy intervention. Young Farmers endorses the WEATHER Act of 2023, recognizing how this proposal can complement existing resources and strengthen support for young farmers in persevering through these impacts.” 

“Persistent barriers prevent 80 percent of farms from enrolling in the federal crop insurance program, most of them small to mid-sized farmers growing fruits and vegetables,” said Billy Hackett, Policy Specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The WEATHER Act would allow USDA to pilot a new kind of insurance product that – if tailored to small and underserved producers as directed in the bill – NSAC believes could help address the dramatic gap in access to the safety net as a complement to needed improvements to the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection insurance program.” 

In 2022, major weather disasters caused over $21 billion in crop losses. In Vermont, this summer’s devastating flooding resulted in over $16 million in losses and damages. Unpredictable weather events exacerbate risks associated with farming, necessitating responsive crop insurance policies. However, producers often opt out of crop insurance due to administrative burdens, high premiums, and low payouts.  

The WEATHER Act works to better support farmers facing income losses after extreme weather events by reducing administrative hurdles and ensuring that insurance payouts are based on agricultural income losses. The legislation would direct the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use its insurance R&D authority to research the possibility of developing an index-based insurance program that: 

  • Creates a multi-peril index insurance product for farmers based on weather indices correlated to agricultural income losses using data from NOAA, satellites, climate models, and other data sources. 
  • Pays out within 30 days in the event of indices exceeding any of the pre-determined county-level thresholds for the following events: High winds, excessive moisture and flooding, extreme heat, abnormal freeze conditions, hail, wildfires, drought, and other perils the Secretary determines appropriate. 

Read more about the WEATHER Act here.

Read the full text of the bill here