By Connor Lynch
RENFREW — The Ontario Federation of Agriculture wants the province to start compensating crop farmers for wildlife damage.
Livestock farmers can already submit claims for livestock killed by predators, as the oft-maligned wildlife damage compensation program can attest.
But OFA vice-president Mark Reusser figured it’s time crop producers got some payback for the herbivores browsing in their fields.
The scope of the problem is hard to say, he said. But anecdotes from upset farmers are common, and crop insurance typically doesn’t help. The damage from deer munching on grain corn isn’t usually enough to trigger a claim, since it doesn’t lower yields by enough, but farmers still end up out of pocket.
It’s been a topic of discussion before with the agriculture minister, but Reusser said those talks haven’t produced anything concrete. “The response so far has been, not much of a response.”
GFO president Markus Haerle said that tabulating wildlife damage to crops is a challenge, because it can vary so much. But he agreed that a compensation program was warranted, based on what he’s heard from producers.
OMAFRA’s total production insurance claims for wildlife damage to crops in 2018 were about $70,000, compared to about $114.7 million in total crop insurance claims. But producers say the problem with crop insurance is that they don’t suffer enough damage to trigger a claim, even though they’re losing money.
Livestock producers can file a claim for a lost animal regardless of how much it affects their bottom line, and the OFA wants something similar for cash croppers.
Cash crop and horticultural farmer Ian McGregor, who farms east of Renfrew said annual visits from hungry animals are always a problem. In his worst year, one of his most vulnerable fields — since it’s surrounded by bush — was totally eaten: An entire five-acre field he didn’t even bother to combine.
Bears, wild turkeys and raccoons are his biggest problem, he said. They typically go after his grain corn, although the bears and raccoons will also eat his strawberries. Bears in particular are trouble. “They just sit there and pile (up) a half acre chunk. If you’ve got more than one bear it’s even worse.”
And he gets nothing for it. “It’s too small an amount for crop insurance to affect the overall yield of my fields. But there’s still dollars leaving the farm without any compensation for it.”