By: Trevor Troyer – Vice President at Agricultural Risk Management, LLC
The USDA Risk Management Agency has just released the new Grapevine crop insurance plan. This has been something that vineyard owners across the US have wanted for years. Coverage is now available starting for the 2024 crop year. The sign-up deadline is November 1st in all states where it is available.
The states where you can obtain this new coverage are: California, Idaho, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington. It is not available in all counties though. The counties that are listed in the actuarial documents are not the same as the Grape crop insurance program. This new program is available for grafted grapevines only in 91 counties.
What is covered with this new insurance product? The Causes of Loss that are listed in the Grapevine Crop Provisions are below:
11. Causes of Loss
(a) In accordance with the provisions of section 12 of the Basic Provisions, insurance is provided only against the following causes of loss that occur within the insurance period:
(4) Fire, unless weeds and other forms of undergrowth have not been controlled or pruning debris has not been removed from the vineyard;
(5) Insects, diseases, and other pathogens if allowed in the Special Provisions; and
(6) Failure of the irrigation water supply if caused by an unavoidable, naturally occurring event that occurs during the insurance period.
(b) In addition to the causes of loss excluded in section 12 of the Basic Provisions, we will not insure against damage other than actual damage to the vine from an insurable cause specified in this section
The vine needs to be completely destroyed, or is damaged to the extent that it will not recover in the 12-month insurance period from November 30th.
Any damage other than damage to the grapevine from an insured cause is not covered. For example, chemical drift, terrorism etc. are not covered. Failure to follow good farming practices or the breakdown of irrigation equipment are also not covered.
For the grapevines to be insurable they must be adapted to the area they are being grown in. They must be being grown and sold for fruit, wine or juice for human consumption. The vines must be grafted to be insurable as well. The Crop Year begins December 1 and extends through to November 30 of the following year. You must have a minimum of 600 vines per acre to be insurable also.
Vines are classified into 3 stages of growth for the policy. Here are the exact definitions:
(a) Stage I, from when the vines are set out through 12 months after set out;
(b) Stage II, vines that are 13 through 48 months old after set out; and
(c) Stage III, vines that are more than 48 months old after set out.
Values are determined by the Stage (age) of the vine and the county they are located in. Obviously Stage III vines are worth more than Stage I vines. These prices are set by the USDA Risk Management Agency.
Vines are insured in four different categories; Group A, Group B, Group C and Group D. Without listing all the varieties in each group, which would take up a lot of space, suffice to say that any variety can be insured. Group A for example has Concord, Niagra and other natives and some hybrids. Group B has mostly hybrids such as Chardonnel, Diamond, Elvira, Vidal Blanc but does have some Vitis vinifera like Reisling. Group C has the most European grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Gamay and others but does have hybrids as well. The catch all is Group D which has “All Other Varieties”. You can select a different coverage level for each Group. You could have 60% coverage on your Group A and 75% coverage on your Group C vines. Depending on which vines you think are more at risk. If you choose Catastrophic Risk Protection (CAT) level for any vine type then CAT will be applicable for all of your insured vines in that county.
You can choose coverage levels for your Grapevine insurance from CAT (Catastrophic) to 75%. CAT insurance is 50% coverage but you only get 55% of that 50% value per vine. Coverage increments are 5%, so you have 50%, 55%, 60%, 65%, 70% and 75%. There is a sort of a double deductible with Grapevine insurance. You have a damage deductible and a value/price deductible. For example, if you choose 75% coverage you would have a 25% damage deductible. That means that the first 25% of damage is not payable. So, if you had 30% of your vines killed because of a freeze you would have a payable claim of 5% (30% minus 25% deductible). There is also a value deductible as well. Again, if you have 75% coverage you would have a grapevine value deductible of 25%. For example, if the grapevine is Stage III in California in Napa County it would be worth $39. At the 75% coverage level the dollar amount for that vine would be $29.25.
There is an optional endorsement that changes the damage deductible. This endorsement does cost a little more but is worth it, in my opinion. This is called the Occurrence Loss Option or OLO for short. It changes the damage deductible to a 5% damage trigger. If your loss is 5% or more of the total value of the vines in a unit you would have a payable loss. Plus, you are paid on the full value percentage of the loss. So, if you had a 30% loss, you would get paid on the full 30%. This does not change the value percentage of the coverage level, if you choose 50% you get that amount. You cannot exceed the total insured value, Liability, of the vines in any case.
OLO has been available for other types of insurance like citrus trees, avocado trees etc. To keep premiums down growers often elect lower coverage levels with OLO. That way you are likely to get a claim paid but the premium is not too high, you just get a little less per vine.
Once you sign up and complete all the forms with your agent, they are then submitted to the underwriter. The underwriter will open an inspection and an adjuster will come and take a look at your vineyard. The adjuster will determine if the grapevines in your vineyard are insurable. The vines could be uninsurable for any of the following reasons. The vines are unsound, diseased or in someway unhealthy. They could have been grafted within a 12-month period before the beginning of the insurance period. Or they could have been damaged prior to the beginning of the insurance period. Once the adjuster has completed the inspection, it is sent to the underwriter and then on to the USDA Risk Management Agency for final approval.
If you have damage from an insured Cause of Loss, you should contact your agent to get a claim opened. It is always best to get a claim opened up sooner rather than later. 48 – 72 hours after discovering damage is best. I know that a lot of growers want to wait and see how much damage there is before they do anything. It is always better to get a claim opened up rather than wait and see. If there is not enough damage then you just let the adjuster know. After you open up a claim an adjuster should be out within 10 days to inspect the vineyard. Do not remove any damaged vines until it has been inspected!
This is a good program, and it will provide protection to vineyards that need to mitigate losses from Freeze, Hail, Flood, Fire etc. But you will have to determine, with your agent, whether or not it is a good fit for your vineyard. Some growers and locations have less risk than others. While some areas are constantly pummeled by the elements and other factors.