Tailor-made insurance for organic sector

OLDS, Alta. — Alberta’s organic farmers will have access to crop insurance this year.

Ester Bemile, a product development analyst with Agriculture Financial Services Corp., said crop insurance for conventional farming didn’t work for organic producers.

She hopes a program specific to organic agriculture will give farmers a risk management tool.

“We will expect some people will take it because the current program wasn’t working very well for organic producers,” Bemile told the recent Alberta Organics conference.

She said organic insurance prices will be 1.5 to 2.6 times higher than conventional prices, depending on crops. Organic crops generally fetch higher prices than conventional because of the demand.

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Eligible crops include barley, canola, peas, flax, oats, fall and spring rye, spring and winter triticale and six kinds of wheat and durum.

Producers who already have historical organic crop data with AFSC may be able to transfer their farm data. Farmers without historical data will start off with the area average of conventional yields, less 15 to 50 percent, depending on the crops.

Premiums will be higher until more information is gained from the insurance program.

Organic farmers will be able to take hail insurance and be eligible for wildlife damage compensation.

Eligible farmers must be certified by a Canadian Food Inspection Agency-approved body.

Bemile said organic producers had difficulty insuring their crops under the conventional programs. For example, claims would be rejected if an inspector saw weeds in a field because he would determine that spray could have controlled them.

“If you follow the Canadian organic standard, you won’t be penalized for finding weeds on your farm,” she said.

Ward Middleton, president of Organic Alberta, said growers who are just entering the industry and those who want to expand will likely use the new program.

“In surveys we’ve done over the past couple years, during development, we found existing organic farmers are well established, have zero or low debt and weren’t looking to use insurance as a risk mitigation strategy,” he said. “We were polling the wrong group.”

Potential new organic growers wanted access to crop insurance as a way to reduce their risk until they became accustomed to not using traditional weed and pest control.

“It actually became an impediment to draw people to organics,” he said.

“I think the new entrants and the expanding growers are going to be where we will see the uptake. How well it will be embraced, I am not certain.”

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