Should I Open Up a Claim?

close-up of a plant crop

By: Trevor Troyer, Agricultural Risk Management

When to open up a claim on your grape crop insurance is important.  A lot of growers say that don’t know if they have a payable loss early in the season.  With grape crop insurance you are covering an average of your production per grape variety. Depending on what coverage level you have chosen this could mean you have a large deductible or small one.  I agree it is hard to tell how much early season damage will affect tons harvested.

  Mid May this year there was a bad freeze/frost event in the Finger Lakes region of New York.  While late spring frosts are not uncommon, this one was really bad.  There was widespread damage to grape vines across the Finger Lakes.   The extent of the damage is not fully known at this time.  But there will be a reduction in the tons harvested this year for sure.

  In a situation like the above a claim should be opened immediately.  More than likely, due to the severity of the frost, an adjuster will come out and inspect the vineyard.  I always tell growers that they should take pictures of the frost damage that morning.  It is always good to document damage as close to the time it occurred as possible.

  It may be that some varieties of grapes show more damage than others.  This is to be expected as some are more resistant to cold.  And from what I have seen over the years with frost and freezes is that it doesn’t affect a vineyard or field evenly.  You might have more damage on one side of the vineyard or more damage on the lowest part of the blocks etc.  Damage varies but just because one variety or one area looks better than others doesn’t mean that you should not open a claim on that variety or block.

  I know that secondary and tertiary buds will emerge in the next few days or weeks after a freeze.  You should open up a claim now regardless.  The damage may be less than you think and you don’t end up having a payable claim.  But it is still best to get one opened up right away.  Don’t wait to see how many tons you harvest before opening a claim! 

  Here is an excerpt from the “How to File a Crop Insurance Claim” Fact Sheet from the USDA:

  Most policies state that you (the insured) should notify your agent within 72 hours of discovery of crop damage.  As a practical matter, you should always contact your agent immediately when you discover crop damage.

  That same night in May, that saw the frost/freeze in the Finger Lakes region, also saw damage to vineyards along the coast of Lake Erie.  I received calls and emails from growers stating that they had had frost as well.  Obviously, the damage was not as bad as the Finger Lakes, but frost on new buds is not something any vineyard owner wants to see.  I opened claims for all of them even though the extent of the damage was not known.

  I cannot stress enough the importance of opening up a claim early. 

  A lot of claims with grapes are relatively routine.  Once the claim is opened an adjuster will come out and document the damage.  You will continue to grow your crop and try to mitigate any damage received. Once you harvest grapes you will meet with the adjuster and give him your production records that show your tonnage per variety.  He will then adjust the claim based your guarantee (average tons per acre per variety and the price for that variety in the county.)

  In some circumstances you will need to get direction from the adjuster before doing anything.

What are your responsibilities after damage if the grapes have not matured properly and will not?  What if they have been rendered unusable (smoke-taint has been a major cause of this in California)? 

  Here is a section from the Grape Crop Provisions that goes over this:

11. Duties in the Event of Damage or Loss.

In addition to the requirements of section 14 of the Basic Provisions, the following will apply:

(a) You must notify us within 3 days of the date harvest should have started if the crop will not be harvested.

(b) If the crop has been damaged during the growing season and you previously gave notice in accordance with section 14 of the Basic Provisions, you must also provide notice at least 15 days prior to the beginning of harvest if you intend to claim an indemnity as a result of the damage previously reported. You must not destroy the damaged crop that is marketed in normal commercial channels, until after we have given you written consent to do so. If you fail to meet the requirements of this section, all such production will be considered undamaged and included as production to count.

  It is important to stay in contact with your adjuster during a claim.

  A lot of things can happen to your vines that could cause them not to produce a full crop.  The insurance period is long and it is important to report everything that may reduce your crop.

  When you sign up for crop insurance, coverage for grapes starts on February 1 in Arizona and California.  It begins on November 21 in all other states.  The end of insurance unless it is otherwise specified by the USDA RMA, is October 10th in Mississippi and Texas, November 10 in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.  In all other states the end of insurance is November 20th.  Crop insurance is continuously in force, once signed up for, unless cancelled or terminated.  Your coverage for following years, will be the day after the end of the insurance period for the prior year.

Here are the Causes of Loss per the Grape crop provisions:

(1)   Adverse weather conditions;

(2)   Fire, unless weeds and other forms of undergrowth have not been controlled or pruning

       debris has not been removed from the vineyard;

(3)   Insects, except as excluded in 10(b)(1), but not damage due to insufficient or improper

       application of pest control measures;

(4)   Plant disease, but not damage due to insufficient or improper application of disease control


(5)   Wildlife;

(6)   Earthquake;

(7)   Volcanic eruption; or

(8)   Failure of irrigation water supply, if caused by an insured peril that occurs during the

       insurance period.

  Adverse weather conditions could be anything that could cause damage to your grapes. For

example; drought, frost, freeze, excess moisture etc. Wildlife could be bird damage, deer etc.

Fire would also include smoke taint as that is a result of a fire.

  Crop insurance does not cover, the inability to sell your grapes because of a buyer’s refusal or contract breakage. It also doesn’t cover losses from boycotts or pandemics. Phylloxera is not covered, regardless of the cause. Overspray or chemical damage from a neighboring farm is not covered either.

  So, get those claims opened up early and stay in contact with your agent and adjuster.

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