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Published May 03, 2011, 01:54 PM

Prevented plant policies

BISMARCK, N.D. — Today’s column takes a lead from Jonathan Knutson’s April 18 Agweek column.

By: Derrick Braaten, Special to Agweek

BISMARCK, N.D. — Today’s column takes a lead from Jonathan Knutson’s April 18 Agweek column. Among the most frequently asked questions to Jonathan was: “What’s the biggest issue in area agriculture right now?” His answer was, “Getting in the crop. Most of the Northern Plains is wet, which will delay planting. The delays could be so severe and widespread that a lot of acres might not get planted.”

If you are prevented from planting this spring, there are a few things that lawyers in my firm have learned through the years by representing farmers with prevented plant claims.

Keep records

To collect under your policy, you need to show that you were unable to plant because of an insured cause of loss that also prevented others in the area from planting acres with similar characteristics.

To prove this, we recommend you keep a detailed farm journal showing your fall preparations field by field and the weather (temperature, snowfall, rain) at your farm. And it is helpful if you take photos or videos that show the field conditions during the planting period for the crop you intended to plant.

If you can afford it (and it may pay for itself), buy a digital camera that will record the GPS coordinates where the photo was taken as well as the date of the photo. A dated photo with GPS coordinates for the particular field is much more persuasive than a standard photo of a generic wet field.

Because the success of a prevented plant claim also depends on when other farmers in your area were able to plant, talk to your neighbors and, if they are agreeable, use your fancy camera to show that surrounding fields similar to yours also could not be planted before the final planting date.

You also must prove that you had the inputs available to plant and produce the crop. Keep good records on your readiness to plant, such as contracts to buy seed and fertilizer, having adequate machinery and so on.

Call an agent

Be sure to promptly report your difficulty in planting to your agent. Don’t forget also to report the same information to the Farm Service Agency office in case there is a later crop disaster program. Work with your agent if you have questions.

Finally, don’t be in a panic to accept an insurance company offer that you think is based on inaccurate conclusions. The policy provides one year within which you can demand arbitration if you dispute the company’s factual findings. I strongly recommend that you use a lawyer as soon as possible if you need to go for arbitration.

On that note, I’d like to make a personal announcement. I started to practice law in 1970. It has been a wonderful career, especially working with family farmers and ranchers, but now I would like to have more time for family, fun (I am signed up for the National Senior Olympics triathlon this June.) and travel.

I will keep practicing “good guy” law in Bismarck, N.D., (I only represent the good guys) but less intensely. My partners, Beth Baumstark and Derrick Braaten, (with whom I still will be associated) will shortly be making a major announcement, so stay tuned. As part of the transition, Derrick Braaten, — my brilliant, hard-working, and energetic law partner who is as devoted to working for family farmers as I am — is taking over this Ag-vocate column. So, this is my farewell column — unless Derrick gives me an occasional guest spot. Stay in touch, please.