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Published January 11, 2011, 11:33 AM

Documenting crop losses

BISMARCK, N.D. — Isn’t it what every farmer needs — more time, more money?

By: Derrick Braaten, Special to Agweek

BISMARCK, N.D. — Isn’t it what every farmer needs — more time, more money?

If you are farming for any period of time, crop loss is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean you have to lose out completely.

Crop damage can occur in a variety of different situations; natural disasters such as drought or hail, chemical spray drift from neighboring fields, damage from stray livestock or poor yield from bad seed. Regardless of the circumstances, the same general rules apply to making a record of the losses to accurately prove the amount of damages to an insurance company or a court.

Keeping good records

One of the easiest ways for farmers to ensure they don’t bear the costs of an unforeseen crop loss is to record and document crop damage when it happens. This doesn’t mean two years, two months, or two weeks after it happens, it means when the damage is happening or immediately after. Most crop insurance policies require that you notify your agent of potential loss within 72 hours of initial discovery.

The second key to ensuring recovery for crop loss is to use accurate methods of recording crop loss.

Do not do a quick visual scan of the field and guess how many bushels you’re out, or grab a buddy and walk off the acreage together. As accurate as you may be, these methods will not convince an insurance company or a court. Instead, keep a detailed log of yields by recording the number of bushels that come off each field (indicated by name or number), date of harvest, and vehicle or wagon weight, moisture and estimated volume per load.

Specifically identify where the production for each field ended up; sold, placed in commercial storage, stored on-farm or fed to livestock. If the crop is sold, indicate on each scale ticket from which field it came. A load summary or settlement sheet must accompany the individual load tickets as well; the individual load tickets themselves won’t be sufficient to show evidence of delivery. If the crop is stored, make sure to level the bins between each unit and mark the level for each unit on the outside of the bin.

Also, avoid mixing past years’ crops with the new one if possible. If not, make sure to mark the level of the old before the new crop is put in. If the crop is fed to livestock, keep a log of what crop is fed on which day, out of which field it came and quantity.

The third effective method used to document crop loss is pictures, pictures and more pictures.

It may seem obvious, but the best way to demonstrate the damage and the extent of that damage is to have a visual image. Begin taking pictures of the damage upon discovery and continue to take pictures periodically as time goes on.

This especially is important where there is damage from chemical spray drift. For each picture or group of pictures, mark on a white board or sheet of cardboard the date, field name or number and crop.

Again, it seems obvious, but this will give the viewer unmistakable proof of the damage. There also are digital cameras available that will record the GPS location along with time and date of the photo.

Finally, don’t forget the importance of your daily log; record all significant weather, describe work done in each field and contact with your insurance agent. Taking the time to make these steps a part of your farming practice will be worth it in the end.

Editor’s Note: Lindsey Nieuwsma, an attorney at Sarah Vogel Law Partners P.C. in Bismarck contributed to this column.

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