Soybeans are having a ‘hail’ of a time in Manitoba, thanks to two of the worst years for hail damage in recent memory.
Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation in 2016 paid soybean growers $5.2 million in hail damage claims, 12 per cent of its total hail payouts for that year, statistics show.
The year before, in 2015, MASC paid growers $5.7 million in soybean hail damage claims, 18 per cent of total payouts.
The increased payouts are a function of rapidly expanding soybean acreage in Manitoba.
But they also reflect a recent significant increase in hail claims, including the two worst summers for crop-hail losses since the late 1980s.
According to MASC hail insurance statistics, crop-hail losses to Manitoba farmers from all sources in 2015 and 2016 were estimated at $54.1 million and $77.7 million respectively. MASC alone paid out a record $44 million for crop-hail damage in 2016 and $31.1 million in 2015.
Payments for hail claims in 2016 were nearly four times the previous 10-year average of $11.45 million.
As for soybeans, MASC’s all-risk crop insurance program is covering just over two million acres of the crop this year, up 35 per cent from 2016 and 55 per cent more than in 2015.
Doug Wilcox, MASC’s manager of research administration, said the agency in 2016 would have expected to pay $700,000 for hail damage to soybeans if acreage had remained at the 2005-14 historic average. Instead, MASC paid out nearly 7.5 times as much because soybeans are expanding so rapidly.
Exactly why 2015 and 2016 were so bad for hail isn’t known. Wilcox said hail damage in those years was certainly above the normal range. But other perils, such as drought and excess moisture, did not exceed historical levels.
Although some would probably blame climate change for the increase in hailstorms, Wilcox was noncommittal.
“Certainly, if you’re a climate change supporter, you would say that’s evidence of increased weather variability due to climate change, which may or may not be true,” said Wilcox. “But it could be just one of those things that happens. Weather varies.”
Wilcox gave an update on soybean crop insurance coverage during a recent tour at the Canada-Manitoba Crop Diversification Centre hosted by Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers.
Wilcox said MASC counted a record 69 hail days in 2016, one more than in 2015 and 28 per cent above average. Besides being more frequent, hailstorms were also more damaging. The average crop loss on damaged fields was 20.4 per cent, two per cent above average.
Three hot spots for crop-hail storms stood out in Manitoba during 2016. They were the RMs of Deloraine-Winchester, Norfolk-Treherne and Lorne-Pembina.
Wilcox said there seemed to be more of a southwesterly shift in hailstorm patterns. Generally, according to MASC, most crop-hail losses in Manitoba tend to occur south and west of the Interlake. The Red River Valley is the worst region.
Historically, the majority of crop-hail claims are in August. However, Wilcox said MASC saw above-normal hail damage claims in June and the last half of August during 2015 and 2016, and below-average claims in the first half of August and September.
This is a reminder that producers should sign up for hail insurance earlier than they have traditionally done, said Wilcox.
But it’s easy to exaggerate the overall damage caused by hail. MASC says 23 per cent of its crop-hail claims do not result in significant damage. Only 10 per cent of claims account for 75 per cent of crop-hail losses.
As for the future, Wilcox said the message to producers is clear.
“Probably, rates will be going up due to high losses in the last couple of years,” he said. “Any deficits or loss experiences have to be recovered over time.”