This year on the farm we’ve been battling drought conditions with the driest spring on the prairies in almost 70 years. We’ve prayed, hoped and wished for rain, and we got some. Then we got even more. In fact, we got as much in one day as we had all year, about 1.2″. Then on July 22, 2015, as we were driving home from our family vacation in British Columbia, we started tracking a storm moving across south/central Alberta. There was even tornado watches and warnings and a funnel cloud in the Calgary area. The storm was heading towards us a bit northeast of Calgary, and it hit us. It hit us hard. Luckily our farm acres are spread out in different parts of the county and not all clumped together. This usually lessens our chances of 100% crop damage from all kinds of weather, as the weather seems to follow patterns along the hills and valleys of our acres in Wheatland County, Alberta. Sometimes one piece of land gets 2″ of rain and another absolutely nothing.
With this hail storm we lost about half of our entire wheat crop. Some wheat fields are 100% damage and others about 25%. Living through a growing season that was already stressful and trying, now we deal with getting hailed out, and of course it happened to be the best looking wheat crop we had. I suppose that makes sense, it got the most moisture and the rain came back there again and brought some hail along this time.
Golf ball-sized hail on one of our crops.
But you have crop insurance, right?
This question comes up a lot when we discuss crop damage by hail. Yes, our farm buys crop insurance and extra hail insurance on all of our acres, but it’s nothing compared to what our farm would make by harvesting a healthy, mature crop. My farmer tells me that the insurance gives you enough to put a crop in next year, but there is no profit or extra money received for farm investment. It can also be a lot more work to clean up the hail damage than if it were a mature wheat crop to harvest. You have to file for crop insurance within 3 working days after the storm and then an adjuster comes to assess the damage based on a number of factors.
How does crop insurance work?
It’s confusing, that’s how it works! It’s a very complicated thing. Every year on our farm, my father-in-law and my husband take a look at what they’re planting and where, and my father-in-law purchases crop insurance. Since crop insurance varies province-to-province and state-to-state, the information I’m losely trying to convey is for farmers in Alberta.
General crop insurance can cover damages from hail, wind, bugs, snow, disease and more; we can also buy extra hail insurance. This year for our farm, we insured 60% on canola and 70% on wheat — general crop insurance covers production, which is the minimum amount of production in bushels/acre. This means that if we get 100% hailed out on a wheat field, they will pay us 70% on whatever rates they give us at the beginning of the year.
Another example would be, if we insure our wheat crops at 38 bushels/acre and our wheat only gives us 23 bushels/acre at harvest, we are insured to receive that lost 15 bushels/acre at whatever rate was determined at the time of buying insurance; for example $7/bushel. This varies year-to-year, region-to-region, based on the value of the crop, the inputs, market outlook, history of weather patterns. You can also buy extra hail insurance any time throughout the growing season and it comes into effect by noon the following day. We live in a very high-risk area so our rates are different from lower risk areas in Alberta. The crop insurance rates are subsidized by the government.
I’ll be honest with you: being a farmer is complicated and stressful. The more I learn about how our farm operation works, the more thankful I am that I have my nursing degree and get to work at the hospital so I don’t have to make those complicated decisions that the farmers do! My respect grows for the farmers in my family, and all the farmers around the world for choosing such demanding careers and having to make such complicated and calculated decisions on a daily basis. There are so many decisions and so many factors that go into our grain farm operation, it absolutely boggles my mind.
To try to put it simply, it’s great to have the option of crop and hail insurance to lesson the blow of a bad crop year, but I believe it’s safe to say that most farmers want to harvest their crops and not just collect an insurance cheque at the end of the growing season. It’s just another reason why it takes so much faith to be a farmer when almost everything is out of your control.
Farmers, if you would like to weigh in in the comments section, I’d greatly appreciate you sharing your knowledge on this very complicated topic!