As the Feb. 28 deadline approaches for area farmers to insure their pasture and hay land this year, livestock producers are hoping for another successful growing season on their perennial forage crops once the snow melts this spring.
“Last year, despite dry conditions in the early spring and late summer in some areas, most producers ended up with strong growth on their hay and pasture when the rain finally came in June,” says John Kresowaty, with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), the Crown corporation that provides crop insurance to Alberta farmers on behalf of provincial and federal governments.
$4.4 million paid on hay, pasture claims in 2013
Just more than $4.4 million was paid out through hay and pasture insurance claims across Alberta last year — including the counties of Stettler, Paintearth, and Camrose — due to the dry conditions in early spring and late summer. “It was one of our lowest payout years for Perennial Insurance programs over the last decade as a result of favourable precipitation and good growing conditions in June and July,” says Kresowaty. The highest payout years for hay and pasture insurance were during the droughts of 2009 when $56 million was paid in claims, and 2002 when $89 million was paid out.
Perennial hay and pasture crops depend on plenty of moisture early in the spring for healthy growth, says Grant Lastiwka, a provincial livestock forage business specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD). “As a general rule, 70 to 90 per cent of the yield potential of pasture and rangeland is determined by early June across southern Alberta and by early July across the rest of the province,” he says. While snow melt can help, getting adequate spring moisture and rainfall during April, May, and June ultimately determines whether producers will get good hay and pasture production each year, points out Lastiwka.
Provincial moisture maps show that soil moisture beneath the snow as of late January is generally very low to extremely low in the counties of Paintearth and Camrose. It’s generally low to very low in the County of Stettler ranging to extremely low in the North. Snow cover in the County of Paintearth is generally moderately low with pockets of near normal. Snow cover in the counties of Camrose and Stettler is generally near normal with some moderately low pockets.
Of course, nobody can predict how much moisture or rainfall the coming spring will bring, says ARD provincial soil moisture specialist, Ralph Wright. “It could be wet or things could turn hot and dry. Anything’s possible. There are still two months of winter left. It’s really a wait-and-see game because weather is so random,” says Wright.
7.5 million acres insured
Unpredictable weather is the biggest reason Alberta producers insure about 7.5 million acres of hay and pasture across the province every year through AFSC Perennial Insurance programs, says Kresowaty.
Cattle producer David Webster says while he has lots of snow on his cow-calf operation south of Stettler near Big Valley, he knows that’s no guarantee that he’ll have enough moisture to grow good pasture and hay crops in the spring. “It was really dry in the fall so our pasture and hay land were certainly stressed,” he says, adding a good shot of spring rain will be essential this year. “It’s kind of like rolling the dice. You can have a nice, wet fall and then end up with drought by the middle of June,” says Webster, explaining that’s why he insures his pasture and hay every year. “If I can’t grow my own feed off the land, I have to buy it. In a drought like 2002, feed costs double because everyone else is looking for feed, too. Insurance helps us cover those higher feed costs so a disaster doesn’t hurt as much.”
12 new weather stations added
New to Perennial Insurance this year is the addition of 12 new weather stations to the provincial network AFSC uses to determine payouts on Perennial Insurance programs for hay and pasture. “We now have 239 weather stations across Alberta that measure precipitation and other weather data,” says Kresowaty. “It’s important to have as many stations as possible so clients can select stations in close proximity to their land base that best represent weather conditions on their farm,” he says.
Farmers who take Moisture Deficiency Insurance on their pasture or include it as rider on their hay insurance select up to three weather stations, he explains. If accumulated moisture at these stations falls below normal over the growing season, a claim is triggered. Kresowaty says hay insurance also protects against yield losses caused by perils such as hail, flood, insects, disease, lightning, winterkill, and wildlife damage.
AFSC hay and pasture insurance renews automatically each year unless producers decide to cancel or make changes to their coverage. Most choose to stay in the program every year, says Kresowaty. “The premium discounts they earn likely influence that decision,” he says, noting a Continuous Participation Discount, an Experience Discount for low claims on hay insurance, and an Early Payment Discount can add up to a reduction of 60 per cent or more on hay insurance premiums.
For more information about Perennial Insurance, farmers can contact their local AFSC branch or the AFSC Call Centre at 1-877-899-AFSC (2372) before the Feb. 28 deadline.