By Connor Lynch
HENSALL — 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 left a third of Ontario’s corn at the mercy of the elements.
Soybeans were treated a bit more carefully, with 75 per cent of Ontario’s acreage insured, while 71 per cent of winter wheat acreage was insured.
Since production insurance is an all-or-nothing deal, it speaks to many farmers going without insurance entirely.
For 27-year-old Huron County organic farmer Martin Boettcher, who farms almost 900 acres of cash crops, at Brussels, northwest of Kitchener, crop insurance just never made sense. “I think if you spend most of your time improving what you’ve got, and don’t spend that time covering your ass, you’ll be a more successful farmer,” he said.
Boettcher said that crop insurance is generally a bad idea because it encourages risky farming. “You take risks that aren’t environmentally or economically feasible, because you have the insurance to fall back on,” he said. “For people who farm corn-on-corn, crop insurance is a substitute for crop rotation or soil conservation.”
Boettcher added that his area in Huron County isn’t prone to hail or other disasters that could justify crop insurance and expects that as much as a third of county farmers skip the insurance. He added that organic farmers were likely going with crop insurance less often. “There’s lots of independent-minded people in the organic industry.”
A Western Ontario farmer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he doesn’t have crop insurance either and thinks there are better ways of managing risk. Crop rotations, soil improvements, including constant soil testing and minimal tillage, and extensive tile drainage all help keep his corn, soybeans, and wheat growing and yielding. He knows other farmers who grow without insurance. But some of his neighbours wouldn’t grow without it, he 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 might 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.”
But 33 per cent of corn acres going uninsured? That is surprisingly high to Eastern Ontario agronomist and crop advisor with Harvex, Barton Simpson. Simpson said that amount of uninsured corn acres was “shocking.”
He added that banks would require insurance from anyone with an operating loan but he can see small acreage farmers not bothering with insurance.
The uninsured soybean acres were not surprising. “I think there’s a lot more part-time guys in soybeans,” he said. “Obviously, there’s some people out there gambling, willing to take the risk of not suffering a crop loss.”