First, a storm hits crops, then insurance woes

Published 9:03 am Thursday, August 5, 2010

Gene Hugoson, Guest Column

For most Minnesotans, dark clouds and sirens mean it’s time to head down to the basement for a few minutes while strong storms pass. Sometimes the thunderstorms knock out our electrical power for a few hours and we’re stuck without our television and air conditioning.

But for farmers, a storm can be much more than a temporary inconvenience. It can wipe out a year’s worth of work in a few minutes.

Gene Hugoson

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It hardly seems fair that so much effort can come down to something as arbitrary as the path of a hailstorm or wind gusts, but that is the nature of farming. Fortunately, there are ways to control some of the financial risks associated with weather — chief among them being insurance that covers crops and/or farm facilities.

For years, farmers have been encouraged to practice risk management by using tools like crop insurance to protect against catastrophic loss. Most of the time, these tools work the way they are designed. But sometimes they do not.

In rare cases, farmers get the nasty shock of severe storm damage followed by another nasty shock of finding out that protection they had relied on is not there when they need it.

Not all insurance policies are created equal, and like any other financial service, there are some policies and companies that provide better service than others. That’s why it’s so important to consider all factors — not just price — when selecting a provider. Regardless of the circumstances a farm family faces after a storm, it is important to know there are resources out there to help them with legal or financial disputes that arise after a disaster. One great resource is the Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network, which provides financial guidance, technical assistance and mentoring to farm families facing economic hardship. By calling the toll-free MFAN helpline, 1-877-898-MFAN, farmers can be quickly connected to helpful resources.

One way MFAN can help farmers with insurance policy disputes in the wake of a storm is by helping them contact a reputable public insurance adjuster. Public Adjusters are professional insurance adjusters who work on behalf of a policyholder who has sustained an insured loss. They work with the farmer and the involved insurance company to seek a fair and prompt settlement based on the specific circumstances of the loss.

The Farm Advocate Program is another important service that exists to help farmers facing a natural disaster. Through individual advocates located around the state, the program provides one-on-one assistance for farmers facing a natural disaster or financial problems. Farm Advocates are trained and experienced in mediation, lender negotiation, crisis counseling, disaster programs and to recognize the need for legal and/or social services. Over the years, they have helped many farm families cope with problems by providing helpful connections and a sympathetic ear. The best way to make contact is by calling the program hotline at 1-800-967-2474.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture supports both these programs, and in addition personnel such as our livestock development team stand ready to help producers with disaster recovery and many other issues.

I am very thankful to all the people around the state who have devoted their time and energy to make them work. I encourage farmers who are struggling with disaster recovery to take advantage of these tremendous programs by making a toll-free call. For many of us, family, friends and neighbors will always be the first place to go when we need help, but you might be pleasantly surprised at how many others around the state are ready and willing to help a farm family in times of need.

Gene Hugoson is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.