Time is running out for producers trying to deal with unharvested — and unsalvageable — acres. And the situation could become a train wreck for many of them if the province’s crop insurer can’t speed up its assessments, say farm groups.
“Within certain regions, I would say that dire is an apt description because there may not be enough time for those fields to get to a point where they can get machinery on them and even do a proper job of reclamation,” said Tom Steve, general manager of Alberta Wheat.
“It’s not a dire situation yet, but it could become one. There are some areas where it is very unlikely that it’s going to get dry enough to get onto the land any time soon. I would say that qualifies as dire.”
The situation is unprecedented in recent history — a million unharvested acres and serious doubts whether Agriculture Financial Services Corporation’s 120 inspectors can assess the acres that are writeoffs in time for seeding.
Late last month, the province’s four big crop commissions had a conference call with the agricultural minister and senior management at the AFSC. Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier and his officials promised to deploy inspectors from the south (where most crops were harvested last fall or earlier this spring) and also streamline the assessment process.
But there were doubts whether that will be enough.
“One of the biggest obstacles that we face now is dealing with unharvested acres where farmers want to put it to an alternate use. In other words, it’s got no commercial value,” said Steve.
But before they can bale, burn, or plow down crops, producers have to have an adjuster come out to certify there’s nothing worth combining.
“That’s where there could be a huge influx of these requests for inspections without the ability to do them in a timely fashion,” said Steve.
And AFSC officials admitted they don’t know how many requests might come in or how many acres they will need to assess.
“As of the moment of writing, most producers have not informed AFSC as to their intentions and as such AFSC does not have a breakdown of the acreages that will need to be assessed,” the insurer said in an email statement on May 1.
“A majority of the acres reported unharvested have been assessed (more than 95 per cent) for an unharvested acreage advance. However, pre-harvest assessments can only be made once they are requested by the producer. Therefore, AFSC is engaging with clients to encourage them to share with us, as soon as possible, their intentions for their crop.”
But many producers are caught in a regulatory trap because they can’t get machinery onto their land because it is too wet.
“They need to evaluate the crop and take a sample, so it’s been pretty difficult to pre-order an inspection until you can get out in the field and evaluate it,” said Steve. “People need to be able to get machinery into the field to trigger the inspection.”
Senior managers of AFSC toured the Peace Country along with farm leaders and officials from the crop commissions, including Steve, on April 28.
“What they told us up there is that Minister Carlier has told them they need to expedite some of the process for field evaluations,” Alberta Barley chair Jason Lenz said after the tour. “Right now, it’s looking like most pea fields that are still out will be an automatic writeoff. Cereals are somewhere in the middle. Canola is the one crop that might have an opportunity to get harvested and still maintain the quality of the crop.”
But the clock is “ticking,” he added.
“Really, the first two weeks of May are the best time to get crops in the ground and after the 20th of May, people have lost production (options) for all crop types.”
Still, many farmers are confused about the assessment process and that’s partly because AFSC hasn’t done a good job in reaching out to them, said Steve.
“If there’s anything that AFSC needs to be doing better, it’s communicating. That’s the frustrating part for farmers,” he said.