Hail claims see big jump in Alberta

Showers and small systems like this one near Waldheim, Sask., will be the order of the day for the next few weeks, damaging early season crops such as peas and lentils.  |  Michael Raine photo

Hail claims have the approximately 150 on-farm inspectors with Alberta’s Agriculture Financial Services Corp. busier than a set of jumper cables at a farm auction sale.

The AFSC had received 6,400 hail claims from Alberta farmers as of Aug. 1, putting the number to date slightly ahead of numbers in 2012, the year the province set a record for hail claims and paid out slightly more than $450 million.

Southern Alberta, the Edmonton region and the “hail belt” around Ponoka, Lacombe and Red Deer make up most of the claims, said AFSC communications manager Nikki Booth.

“Right now we are a bit above the 2012 … claim numbers,” she said Aug. 4.

“2012 was our record year for hail claims and we are trending just a little above that. It’s going to depend on how the rest of this season pans out and if we see more hailstorms, but right now we’re seeing a significant number of hail claims, for sure.”

Claims range from minor damage to complete loss of the crop, with reports of hailstones from pea-sized to tennis ball sized.

The many claims have created a challenge for AFSC adjusters, said Booth.

“Inspectors are getting out within about 25 days of people submitting a claim about 80 percent of the time,” she said.

“Obviously, when you’ve got 7,000 claims in the province, our inspectors are quite busy, but we’re trying to get out there as quickly as we can. And we do prioritize based on crop type, crop stage, storm date and inspection type.”

Booth acknowledged that 25 days can seem a long time for farmers who have seen hail damage affect what was previously a promising crop.

“We’re doing our best to get out and at least have contact with people that have filed claims and just let them know where things are at.”

She said AFSC plans to post updated claim numbers on its website each week so farmers can see the volume and adjust their expectations accordingly on the timing of crop inspections.

Stephen Vandervalk, who farms near Fort Macleod, Alta., said a crop inspector has seen one of his fields affected by an early hailstorm, but more storms have caused additional damage since then.

“I think 25 percent of our land will be getting paid out on hail claims,” he said.

Vandervalk said he always buys hail insurance and considers it necessary despite the cost of premiums.

“There’s no real reason not to cover yourself, no matter what, because if you’re in a high risk area, it’s expensive for a reason, so it’s just one of those things.”

That said, much of his crop suffered from dry early spring conditions so it was far from bumper status even before hail.

“We have lots of fields that it would not hurt my feelings at all to get wiped out,” he said.

“I usually insure for a decent amount right at the front because it doesn’t cost you any more to do it early. I usually will add insurance when I think the crop is increasing in value.”

Josh Fankhauser, who farms near Claresholm, Alta., estimated that hailstorms will reduce his yields by 30 percent this year.

“I’m sure they’ll write off at least a section. I’ve got everything from 10 percent or less to wiped out,” Fankhauser said.

“There’s been a lot of hail in the Claresholm area. Everybody I’ve talked to has had some, and most guys have had at least one field that’s significant. Pretty much everybody’s had a field that’s over 50 percent (hail damaged).”

On the other hand, Fankhauser said an anticipated large western Canadian crop will likely make logistics tricky this year, so he might not have to cope with that.

“Harvesting a little less and getting a big hail cheque might not be a bad thing, in the end.”

Farmers who plan to silage or bale hail-damaged crops that have been insured should check first with their local AFSC office, said Booth.

“You don’t want to null your policy by not calling in advance and just talking to the staff before you put a crop to an alternate use,” she said.

The July 26 Alberta crop report, the most recent report available as of Aug. 4, said 82.5 percent of crops in the province were rated good to excellent, which is above the five year average of 72 percent for this point in the growing season.

With hail comes moisture, and the crop report bore that out with statistics estimating 85 percent of cropland moisture and 80 percent of subsoil moisture are rated good or excellent.

Contact barb.glen@producer.com

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