Wine grapes and crop insurance | 2020-11-24

The early onset and long duration of the 2020 California wildfire season caused the wine grapes to smell significant smoke. This is damage that can be protected with crop insurance, but wine growers need a lab test to confirm it.

“Previously, 2018, we had 2,400 acres of tainted smoke in California and we believe we have over 30,000 acres (this year),” said Martin Barbre, administrator of the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), who oversees the federal harvest. insurance program. He said a backlog in testing labs has added to this year’s challenges. But overall, he estimated that two-thirds of California’s grape acres are enrolled in the federal crop insurance program, and adds that some large farms may have self-insurance.

Barbre said the program is maturing and the policies now offer 85% coverage.

“I have a feeling that we will see this coverage increase and the coverage levels increase,” he said. “We hear more and more ‘What can you do to improve our coverage and help us use crop insurance as our primary risk management tool?’ “

This was the goal of the last two farm bills, and Barbre says the 2018 law required the RMA to appoint specialist crop advisers in each of its 10 offices across the country to work with farmers. and producer groups to examine and assess other crops that might benefit. Assurance. Currently, around 120 special crops are included.

As Tara Smith, executive vice president of Washington-based company Michael Torrey Associates, pointed out, major staple crops like corn, soybeans and wheat also have access to Farm Service Agency programs in the project. agricultural law, but for the most part specialty crops do not.

“There have been ad hoc disaster programs that have covered wine grapes, but this help is really uncertain, it does not tend to appear in a timely manner,” she said, “as the Crop insurance, of course, offers a payment term. “

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Apples, cherries, almonds and pistachios are other specialty crops that farmers are increasingly taking out insurance for. Protecting whole-farm income is a significant amount of specialty crops in insurance programs, according to RMA data Smith and his colleagues gathered. She said specialty crop farmers seem increasingly comfortable with the concept of insurance, although it varies depending on the person and growing conditions.

“Some are linked to risk. Some crops are grown under irrigation, maybe they feel that the risk of growing them is relatively minor, then maybe they don’t feel that there is a need to buy a policy. Smith said. “Wine grapes are obviously a very high value crop that requires expensive inputs and therefore it is important for these farmers to have this protection. “

Crop insurance is designed to be more flexible than farm bill product programs, she said. However, it takes experience to determine where the changes would be most beneficial for producers, and new products offered must demonstrate to RMA that they are actuarially sound.

Ongoing conversations with farmers could help modify existing insurance products or lead to the creation of new ones. With the increasing frequency and severity of grape damage from wildfires, Smith said there was a better understanding of the needs of farmers. For example, the total devastation of crops is relatively easy to assess. But the cancellation of the contract that can occur due to a smoky taste can occur at several stages of the winemaking process. She said RMA provided more guidance to make the process run smoothly.

“A few years of experience goes a long way,” she said. “It is unfortunate that we have had a few years of experience with the taste of smoke. “

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