Should crop insurance have a ‘do not seed before’ date?

This spring has prompted some to ask the question

There’s a crop insurance seeding deadline, so should there be restrictions on how early certain crops are planted?

It’s a question some have put to the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC), following what started off as an early spring, but saw crop emergence delayed by cool soil temperatures, a snowstorm on the Victoria Day long weekend and a widespread killing frost May 30.

As of June 16, crop insurance had received 3,187 reseeding claims representing almost one million acres of land. The final number is expected to be lower as some farmers will opt to keep their crops, David Van Deynze, MASC’s manager of claim services said in an interview.

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Ninety per cent of the reseeding claims are for canola.

“We had a few producers and people comment that there be a ‘do not start before date,’ as it relates to (planting) soybeans specifically,” Van Deynze said. “At this point, I don’t believe we have any plan to consider it, but anything is possible if we get enough feedback from the industry or recommendations from MAFRD (Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development).”

Most of the reseeding claims followed a killing frost that hit much of south-central, southwestern and northwestern Manitoba May 30. It’s not unusual for frost to damage some crops in late May and even early June, Van Deynze said. But this year it was colder longer and in more places.

There are big parts of Manitoba (see map) where there’s a 25 per cent chance temperatures will hit 0 C June 4 to 8, according to research conducted by Andy Nadler of Peak HydroMet Solutions. Both Brandon and Winnipeg fall into that category.

Spring frost risk

Spring frost risk
photo: Andy Nadler, Peak HydroMet Solutions

But research has also shown, on average, crops seeded in early to mid-May also yield the most.

“I think this spring there are a lot of producers questioning why we push to seed canola so early,” Angela Brackenreed, the Canola Council of Canada’s agronomy specialist in Manitoba said during the Westman webinar June 17. “Some folks reseeded twice. (They) planted the same field to canola three times, so I can understand the sentiment for sure.”

But Brackenreed added those who delay risk not being able to seed if wet weather sets in.

“In my opinion the five-day forecast is about as good as we’re going to do and then there are the obvious things like soil temperature and seedbed conditions and the frost-free period for your region,” she said.

“It did seem like the right thing to do to seed that first week of May. I think all we can really do is hope this is an anomaly and we’re not going to get -9 at the end of May very regularly.”

Van Deynze agrees. Wet weather has delayed seeding for many farmers in recent years. Risk is inherent in farming and most farmers make decisions aimed at profitability, so in that way, seeding dates are self-regulating, he said. There are checks within the crop insurance program too.

“If you’re collecting a lot of indemnities over time, your premium will go up over time,” said Van Deynze.

MASC can also deny a claim if it believes improper farming practices were used. The corporation looks at what MAFRD recommends and what the majority of farmers are doing.

“So if you have one farmer who plants soybeans in April and gets a frost in early May we’d probably say, ‘hey, we’re not going to be paying you for that,’” Van Deynze said. “If we get 25 farmers doing the same thing in a relatively small area, then we start to look at it as a general farming practice.”

There has been a shift in what Manitoba farmers grow. Thirty to 40 years ago wheat accounted for the most acres in Manitoba and it can tolerate a lot more frost than canola or soybeans, said Doug Wilcox, MASC’s manager of agronomy and program development. There was a lot more summerfallow too. Those soils warmed up faster in spring because of less crop residue. Bigger farmers with more acres can’t always wait for the ideal planting time.

Meanwhile, the reseeded canola is off to a great start.

“Where there is moisture those fields that were reseeded look quite impressive,” Brackenreed said. “The canola was coming up in three to four days.

“I was seeing up to 90 per cent emergence, which is pretty much unheard of. And the seed treatment was extremely efficacious for the most part. Those reseeded fields had fairly minimal flea beetle damage in general.

Regrowth in frozen canola fields that weren’t reseeded has also been “impressive,” she said, noting however, weed control will be an issue in bare patches.

 

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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