Wednesday, 19 June 2013 15:51

Area farmers hope crops avoid hail damage this year

Written by  Courtesy Alberta Financial Service Corp.
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As crops across southern Alberta start to grow and another hail season begins, farmers are hoping to be spared from the kind of record hail damage that battered crops in every part of the province last year.

“Last summer was the worst hail year we’ve ever seen. There were only 11 hail-free days all summer, from early June to mid-September,” says Brian Tainsh, Manager of On-Farm Inspections with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the Crown corporation that administers crop and hail insurance in Alberta on behalf of the provincial government.
Hail pounded crops in every region of the province last year, including southern Alberta, triggering more than 11,000 claims and record payouts of almost $450 million through AFSC’s Straight Hail Insurance program, and the Hail Endorsement rider that many farmers add to their crop insurance each spring.
“There wasn’t one AFSC office across the province that didn’t have hail claims reported,” says Tainsh, noting the previous record hail year in Alberta was 2008 when hail claims totalled more than $265 million.
Moisture Increases Hail Risk
What this year’s hail season will bring is still anybody’s guess, says Tainsh. He points out hailstorms in late May and early June have already triggered claims in the Vulcan and Lethbridge areas  — although crops at such early stages of growth have great potential to recover from hail damage.
Environment Canada Meteorologist, Dan Kulak, says it’s too early to tell what the summer holds.
“Alberta is a hail capital, so we know we’ll get hail. The question is how much. A lot depends on what happens through the rest of June and how much moisture we have going into July. The wetter it is, the greater likelihood of hail,” he says, noting high humidity last summer was a key factor that contributed to so many hailstorms.
Kulak points out there are three ingredients for hail – heat, surface moisture or humidity, and a trigger.
“The sun is often the day-to-day trigger. It shines on the mountains, warming up the air, which then rises and often produces storms that move eastward from the foothills. If that warm air collides with cooler air moving in from the mountains, the storms can be intense. Alberta is designed for hail production and the mountains play a key role,” he explains.
Hail Risk Every Year
Dean Hubbard says hail is a concern every year on his farm near Claresholm where he grows about 3,000 acres of barley, wheat, canola, and peas.
“There’s always hail going through this area in July and August,” he says.
Last summer, his crops were devastated by an August hailstorm.
“We’ve never been hit that hard before. Other years we’d get one quarter, but never the whole farm,” says Hubbard, who sustained losses of between 25 and 80 per cent on every field.
He adds high input costs and commodity prices have raised the stakes lately.
“With the amount of inputs I’m using, we couldn’t afford a loss like last year without insurance,” he says, explaining that’s why he takes Straight Hail Insurance in addition to the Hail Endorsement rider on his crop insurance.
Early Hailstorm Protection
Hubbard is among an increasing number of farmers who ‘Auto Elect’ Straight Hail coverage at the same time they purchase crop insurance in April, says Tainsh.
“It gives them a two per cent premium discount and protects their crops against hailstorms early in the season.”
That early protection is important, he says.
“If farmers wait and their crops are struck by hail before they’re insured, fields with more than 25 per cent damage become ineligible for Straight Hail Insurance for the rest of the season.”
Straight Hail Insurance is available any time during the growing season at AFSC offices, and takes effect at noon the day after it’s purchased.
“Farmers also have the option of purchasing it online — giving them 24-hour access and a two per cent discount,” says Tainsh. “But first they need to contact AFSC for an activation code to enter the online site.”
75-Year Hail Mandate
It’s been 75 years since Alberta passed special legislation giving AFSC its mandate to provide hail insurance in every corner of the province — even the highest risk areas, says Tainsh.
“Many farmers couldn’t get hail insurance back then because the risk was too high for private insurers to take on. That’s why the Alberta Hail Insurance Board, which later became AFSC, was initially created — to ensure every Alberta farmer has access to hail insurance,” he explains. “That’s still an important part of our mandate today.”
For more information about hail insurance, farmers can contact their nearest AFSC office or the Call Centre at 1-877-899-AFSC (2372).

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