As this summer’s hail claims roll in, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s assessment practices are being questioned by farmers who say the agency is too slow to cut a cheque.
(MASC) says its spot loss hail insurance program is similar to what private hail insurance companies offer.
But at least one Manitoba farmer disputes that and says he knows several other farmers whose crops were recently damaged by hail who feel the same.
The farmer, who asked not to be named, said he signed up for MASC’s hail insurance because coverage was automatic so he didn’t have to remember to buy it and because MASC told him it would settle as quickly as private insurance companies. But this farmer says MASC is deferring settlement instead of cutting him a cheque.
MASC’s hail insurance is similar to what other companies offer, said David Van Deynze, MASC’s manager of claim services. Unlike AgriInsurance, which MASC administers on behalf of the federal and Manitoba governments, its hail insurance program is not government subsidized and fully commercial.
“You get paid as quickly as we can process it based on the percentage loss of up to $200 an acre for most crops,” Van Deynze said.
It’s clear cut when a crop has been completely destroyed. However, sometimes MASC defers settlements until it can accurately estimate the percentage loss, he added. It depends on the stage the crop was at, how much damage occurred and the type of crop.
There’s good data available to estimate the yield impact on most crops when damaged early in the season or after seed has set, he said. When crops are hailed in between, especially canola, making an accurate estimate is harder.
“That’s when we tend to wait until late summer or early fall when the crop sets seed,” Van Deynze said.
“When you get hail at the midpoint of plant growth sometimes they recover really good and other times not as well,” he said. “It can depend on the growing conditions after the hail.
“We’d prefer to be accurate. We don’t want to shortchange the producer and we also don’t want to overpay the producer. We think we can be more accurate by deferring that assessment until later in the year so we can see actually how much seed the crop did set.”
Sometimes MASC will settle a hail claim, which is based on the percentage of damage, but want the farmer not to destroy the crop until it can more accurately estimate the yield loss for purposes of the AgriInsurance program, Van Deynze said.
AgriInsurance insures crop yields for the entire farm, not each field as is the case with hail insurance. Even if farmers aren’t in a claim position their yields are recorded by crop insurance and used to establish insurance coverage. Once MASC appraises a damaged crop the farmer can opt to keep or destroy the damaged crop.
“Once we have our number they are free to do whatever they want, Van Deynze said. “It’s up to them to make the decision that’s best for their farm.”
Often farmers want to work down damaged crops before MASC has estimated the yield loss.
“No farmer likes to drive by a crappy-looking crop every day,” Van Deynze said.
And farmers don’t want to spend money on weed and disease control on a crop that isn’t likely to pay.
Some farmers say they want to work up damaged crops to preserve the nutrients they’ve applied. In fact keeping the crop until fall is the best way to protect those nutrients, says John Heard, soil fertility specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
“I’d go as far as to say farmers who rip up their crops now should have to seed a cover crop to protect their nutrients,” he said in a recent interview.
Farmers dissatisfied with an MASC adjuster’s assessment can request a second assessment. If they don’t like either they can take it before an independent appeal tribunal, Van Deynze, said. The second assessment is independent with the second adjuster unaware the crop has been assessed.
If the case goes to the three-member appeal tribunal both the farmer and MASC make their case. The tribunal’s ruling is final.
“We do thousands and thousands of claims (of all types, including hail) and we probably do less than 10 of these (appeals) a year,” Van Deynze said.
As of July 8, MASC had received 820 hail claims. There was a smattering of hail reported last weekend.
Most claims as of July 13 came from two storms — one in the Roseisle, Miami, Thornhill, Morden, Winkler, Pilot Mound, Swan Lake, and Touraud areas June 27 and the other north of Portage la Prairie and in the Brookdale, Deloraine and Waskada areas July 4. There were also claims from several storms near Virden this summer.
On average, MASC gets about 2,000 hail claims a year.
“If we have no more hail for the rest of the year it would be considered a light year, but the scary part is we’re only July 8 so a lot can change between now and October,” Van Deynze said.