Insurance After Spring Storm

Maturity of Winter Wheat Crop a Factor in Options Available to Farmers

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
Connect with Chris:
This winter wheat was buried in snow this week in western Kansas. The late snowstorm affected the way farmers have to walk through their insurance options, depending on if their wheat crop had reached the heading stage. (DTN photo by Pamela Smith)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Winter wheat farmers with crop losses from this past weekend's storm could all be in a bind over their crop insurance options next fall because of the maturity of their winter wheat crop.

Insurance adjusters likely won't get into their fields in time to determine losses from the weekend storm for a week to 10 days. In the meantime, a farmer's option for spring planting or insuring next fall's wheat crop depends on if the wheat crop has reached the heading stage.

Based on reports such as USDA's Crop Progress report, at least half of the winter wheat acres in Kansas likely would not have the option of buying insurance on a non-irrigated spring crop if their winter wheat crop failed because of the storm and has reached the heading stage of maturity.

David Schemm, a farmer from Sharon Springs, Kansas, and president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, was still watching the snow melt on his 4,500-acre winter wheat crop Wednesday morning. He got 12-14 inches of snow over the weekend and western Kansas also hit with winds of up to 60 miles per hour. Just a few miles from him, Logan County saw snow of up to 18 inches.

When it comes to claiming crop damages, Schemm said crop insurers like to wait at least seven to 10 days after an event before sending adjusters to farms. After that 10 days passes, there will be a lot of demand for adjusters to get into the fields. That means it could take longer for adjusters to get around to everyone because of the widespread damage from this storm.

"You could be looking at the possibility of two-and-half to three weeks before you see an adjuster," Schemm said.

Under USDA Risk Management Agency insurance rules, a winter wheat crop that failed and was released by the insurance company has to be terminated by June 1, either by spraying it or tilling it under. The wheat crop also has to remain unharvested, including haying, to qualify as summer fallow for the next crop year. Otherwise, the field can only qualify for continuous cropping. The insurance guarantee for continuous wheat is significantly different for wheat classified as summer fallow. For Schemm, the yield guarantee is more than cut in half.

"In my area, the dynamic that plays is continuous wheat is just not a very good decision out here right now because of our limited rainfall," Schemm said. "That's kind of the bad-case scenario that very well could be happening."

If Schemm and other farmers can get out before June 1 to destroy the wheat crop and fallow the field for the summer, then the field is classified as fallow wheat. The protection levels for next year won't decline.

Even after getting the adjuster to the fields, Schemm added, farmers like himself would probably need three or four days to destroy the wheat to get another crop in or have the crop classified as fallow wheat versus continuous wheat for this fall.

Roughly 6.8 million acres, or about 92% of the Kansas winter wheat crop, is covered through a revenue-protection policy, according to RMA business reports.

So far on the winter wheat crop tour, there has been a lot of discussion about how low of temperature the wheat crop could handle. Kansas State University states wheat at the booted stage can handle about 28 degrees Fahrenheit for about two hours, leading to moderate to severe yield losses after that. At the heading stage, it's about 30 F. Kansas saw a lot of temperatures in the 24 F to 30 F range for an extended period of time last weekend.

Then there is the impact of a foot of snow on the field. It's a little more unclear how much the snow may have worked as insulation for the crop, Schemm said.

OPTIONS ON AN INSURANCE CLAIM

For farmers who have never filed a claim, the Risk Management Agency has some rules:

First, a farmer should notify his or her agent within 72 hours of discovering the crop damage.

Second, a farmer shouldn't do anything to the crop until after the adjuster has looked at it. This is where farmers such as Schemm are at a standstill waiting for the adjuster to show up. As a rule, though, RMA states that a farmer should not destroy his or her crop, disk, plow or replant "until you have permission from your claims adjuster or an insurance company representative."

Taking photos and video of the damage would help record the evidence.

Farmers can plant a second crop and receive 35% of the indemnity for the first insured crop. If there is not a loss on that spring-planted crop, the farmer would receive the remaining 65% of the indemnity on the winter wheat and pay the full premium on it.

However, in the case of failed wheat in Kansas, Colorado or Nebraska, a second non-irrigated cash crop such as sorghum, corn, sunflowers (etc.) can only be planted and insured if the wheat had not reached the headed stage.

Before the storm hit, USDA's weekly Crop Progress report showed roughly 45% of the Kansas wheat crop already was headed, or about 3.3 million acres, of the state's 7.4-million-acre winter wheat crop. So those farmers with headed wheat will be out of luck insuring a spring crop. A farmer whose crop is in the boot stage and who wants to plant an insured crop for this summer, may want to try getting to the front of the line for the insurance adjusters before the wheat crop starts to head.

Farmers whose wheat fields did not reach the heading stage can plant an uninsured spring crop to receive the indemnity on the winter wheat crop. In this case, a farmer also probably would need the indemnity check from the winter wheat to cash flow the expenses to plant a new crop. The risk, of course, is a weather event hitting the spring-planted crop.

"If something were to happen over the summer, you wouldn't get anything from a crop-insurance standpoint," Schemm said.

If a farmer hays the failed wheat crop, they will lose the qualification for summer fallow. The winter wheat crop reverts into that continuous-cropping situation because the failed wheat crop is expected to be terminated and remain fallow.

Farmers who disagree with the adjuster's loss assessment on the winter wheat could also keep check strips that go until harvest to see if the crop loss differs from the adjuster's conclusion.

"Obviously, there are just a lot of decisions that have to be made here in a short amount of time," Schemm said.

Risk Management Agency: How to file a claim: https://www.rma.usda.gov/…

Risk Management Agency: Frequently Asked Questions: https://www.rma.usda.gov/…

Kansas State University: Spring Freeze Injury to Kansas Wheat: http://www.bookstore.ksre.ksu.edu/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/)

Chris Clayton