Prairie hailstorms coming earlier every year

Insurance companies have investigated about 50 storms already this year, with one event occurring May 29

A high number of claims have been filed following a flurry of light to moderate hailstorms across Western Canada.

“They are early and popping up everywhere,” said Rick Omelchenko, president of the Canadian Crop Hail Association in Regina.

“This time of year will be the record amount on how many early claims are coming in.”

He said that’s because hailstorms are occurring sooner each year across the Prairies.

“It’s just been happening earlier and earlier all the time. We actually had a hailstorm May 29,” he said.

Other storms occurred June 2, 6, 7, 9, 10,13 and 15.

Farmers in the Manitoba communities of Portage, Somerset and High Bluff reported damage. In Saskatchewan, farmers in Weyburn, Midale, Ituna, Tisdale, Avonlea, Canora and Kamsack reported damage. in Alberta, farmers in the communities of Trochu and Westlock reported damage.

“That’s a lot of storm dates already for this part of the year,” said Omelchenko.

The association’s member companies are investigating about 50 claims from the storms, with more than half of those in Portage and High Bluff.

The early hailstorms have affected some crops more than others.

However, the severity of damage is not that bad, depending on the crop’s age and the size of hail, which has ranged from golf ball and loonie size to pea-size.

Canola and soybeans have seen the most damage with leaves that have been knocked down, shattered or cut off by pea-sized hail.

“There’s some low to medium percentage kind of damages out there ranging from five to 10 percent,” Omelchenko said.

“Nothing really severe that we know of yet.”

However, the dry conditions and insect pressures are not helping crop development or their recovery from hail damage.

“Cutworms and flea beetles are thriving because they’re taking out crops that are usually growing aggressively, but they can’t grow aggressively because there’s not enough moisture, so it’s affecting the crops quite a bit,” he said.

June is historically the most active hail period in Western Canada. A storm last year on June 14 destroyed crops across all three provinces and was reported by some insurers to be one of the costliest June storms on record.

Last year, the association’s eight member companies covered more than $6.3 billion in crops in Western Canada. Companies paid $161 million on 11,200 claims.

Manitoba was hit the hardest with an industry loss ratio of 71 percent. Saskatchewan had a 66 percent ratio followed by Alberta with a 40 percent loss ratio.

This year the deadline to make a claim for most insurers has been extended from Oct. 15 to Oct. 31.

Even though hailstorms are arriving earlier, Omelchenko said this year’s lack of moisture has prompted farmers to delay purchasing hail coverage.

“Right now the whole (hail insurance) industry is probably behind about 30 percent for sales. A lot of farmers are waiting. Because of the dry weather conditions they’re holding off, they’re not buying,” he said.

“It all depends on weather. If the crops are looking good farmers are willing to pay more because they got something to put against that or use money to pay for their insurance.”

However, as the frequency of hailstorms increases and becomes earlier, insurers are advising producers to take hail coverage sooner rather than later.

“Hopefully the producer has his hail insurance on before he gets hail damage, which we’ve been trying to spout off more and more because of the early storms these years,” he said.

“You can always maybe cancel or something with some companies because it’s not a viable crop, it’s not insurable, but at least you have insurance on.”

He expects that recent precipitation falling across much of the Prairies will have farmers buying hail insurance as their crops soak up the much-needed moisture.

“Rain helps the bottom line, plus it gives farmers that money to say, ‘hey, you know what, I’m going to insure this now. I can afford to insure it,’ ” he said.

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