By Connor Lynch
CRYSLER — To some farmers, crop insurance is a no-brainer. To others, it’s an unnecessary cost. Critics call that gambling.
According to Agricorp, Ontario’s crop insurance provider, many farmers are giving crop insurance a miss.
Between 2011 and 2015, on average, only 67 per cent of Ontario’s corn acreage was insured. That leaves a third of Ontario’s corn at the complete mercy of the elements. Soybeans were treated a bit more carefully, with 75 per cent of Ontario’s acreage insured, and winter wheat was in between, with 71 per cent of acreage insured.
Since production insurance is an all-or-nothing deal, it speaks to many farmers going without insurance entirely.
For Lanark-County crop farmer John Vanderspank, crop insurance was always a cost and never a gain. He crops 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat and custom crops another 1,500 acres.
Years where he had crop damage pushed up his premiums and lowered his annual production numbers, he said. When he had problems with wildlife, particularly with deer, they’d often chew down one section of his field, leaving part of his crop destroyed and the rest mostly intact. Since the loss averaged out, he couldn’t get a claim, even if he completely lost part of his crop.
He’s not alone either. Of his 15 custom work clients, he thinks only one or two insure their crops. Vanderspank borrows money regularly to fund the farm, and he said the banks have never given him a hard time about having crop insurance.
But 33 per cent of corn acres going uninsured? That is surprisingly high to agronomist and crop advisor with Harvex, Barton Simpson. The Crysler-based crop advisor said the numbers, particularly for corn, were “shocking.
“I would think that the majority of people, anyone with any kind of operating loan, the banks would insist on crop insurance to cover them all. So that’s a really surprising number,” Simpson said.
Simpson added that number could partially be explained by small acreage farmers who wouldn’t bother with insurance.
Soybean numbers surprised Simpson less. “I think there’s a lot more part-time guys in soybeans,” who could account for part of that 25 per cent uninsured acres.
“Obviously, there’s some people out there gambling, willing to take the risk of not suffering a crop loss,” Simpson said.
Hensall District Co-op grain marketer Frank Backx, based at Forest, near Sarnia, said that the corn estimate of uninsured acres seems high. Backx said that the only farmers he could figure wouldn’t be insuring their crops would be older, well-established farmers. Those farmers could potentially survive a complete crop loss without insurance, and wouldn’t necessarily have a line of credit attached to a bank that’s insisting on insurance.
Backx added that there’s likely regional variance there. Farmers in Central Ontario, where yields aren’t as high and there’s more marginal land may not bother with crop insurance, he said.
Wheat numbers came as a surprise, he said. “I would’ve thought wheat would be the highest. If it doesn’t overwinter, you can plant something else and (crop insurance) would cover the fall planting cost,” he said.
Conversely, Backx said he would’ve expected uninsured corn acres to be the lowest of the three principal field crops, since “if we get a yield kick, it’s usually out of corn,” he said.