UNHARVESTED CROP IS A MESS ON MANY LEVELS
BY LEE HART
Jody Klassen is one of many farmers across central and northern Alberta who really don’t see a happy ending for the story that played out late in 2016, leaving more than one million acres of grain and oilseed crops left unharvested under snow. All he can do is make the best of a bad situation.
Klassen, who farms at Mayerthorpe, northwest of Edmonton, has about 12 per cent of his crop still out in the field. He knows many farmers are in a worse position than him, with 30, 40 or even 70 per cent of their crop still out in the field after being caught by an early-October snowfall. Damage figures are still being tallied, but province-wide losses are expected to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
After the snow fell and the weather improved, Klassen did manage to harvest another 2,000 acres in November, but his efforts were eventually shut down again by more winter weather, leaving about 500 acres of canola and 140 acres of wheat unharvested for the rest of the winter.
“I really don’t know what to expect when we are able to get out there and get this off in the spring,” Klassen said. “I’ve farmed most of my life and we’ve always finished harvest in fall, for more than 40 years.”
Everything unharvested on the Klassen farm is under snow. He was planning to straight-cut the remaining crop, but as of late January it “was neither standing nor swathed—it was just flat.”
Klassen is hoping he can recoup about 80 per cent of the crop value that’s still out there, but only time will tell whether that will actually be possible. “For those farmers affected, we really need the grain companies to work with us on this,” he said. “We need to recover whatever value we can.”
According to Harry Brook, a longtime crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, any standing crop that’s gone down will be extremely difficult to pick up, and any swathed crops won’t be much better. Freeze-and-thaw cycles over the course of the winter could cause grain kernels to sprout, and mice and voles under the snow will be eating and defecating on crop. There could also be losses from larger wildlife foraging on grain.
“Some of our specialists here estimate canola left out over winter could lose 50 per cent of its yield and 50 per cent of its quality,” Brook said. “In some areas through central and northern Alberta, right up into the Peace River region, there is 30 to 40 per cent and perhaps more of the crop still out, so this is a devastating situation.”
Zsuzsanna Sangster, an insurance solutions specialist with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), said her company has been doing all it can to process more than 2,000 unharvested crop insurance claims affecting more than one million acres.
The company’s team of on-farm inspectors was strengthened in December to begin the damage assessment process. As of Feb. 1, 2017, AFSC had paid out benefits on about 45 per cent of the unharvested claims.
“We’re still in the process, but so far losses are totalling about $17.5 million,” Sangster said. “This is not a common situation. The last time we had crop losses of this scale was in 2004.”
Once AFSC inspectors have made their on-farm assessments, claimants may be eligible for interim or partial crop loss insurance payments. Once the unharvested crop is harvested, the rest of the payment will be made based on final yield and quality.
“If there are any producers who don’t plan to actually harvest crop that’s still out there—say, if they plan to bale wheat and use it for feed or straw, for example— we need to know that too,” Sangster said. “If they decide to do something else with the crop other than harvest, then we can determine a final insurance amount.”