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Published June 09, 2014, 10:06 AM

Spring planting

I have spoken to many clients this spring who are weeks behind their typical planting schedule. As Agweek recently reported, farmers across the region, especially in North Dakota, have planted only a fraction of the typical acreage of several crops before the crop insurance planting deadlines this spring.

By: Derrick Braaten, Agweek

I have spoken to many clients this spring who are weeks behind their typical planting schedule. As Agweek recently reported, farmers across the region, especially in North Dakota, have planted only a fraction of the typical acreage of several crops before the crop insurance planting deadlines this spring. Reporter Mikkel Pates quoted Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson, who said, “My growers would rather produce a crop than collect a prevented-planting claim.” My recent discussions with farmers have confirmed this, but the reality is many will have significant prevented-plant claims this year.

Unfortunately, it seems that I have written on this topic at this time of year several times. Our law firm handles a lot of crop insurance arbitrations, and we have learned that the realities in the field are not always obvious to someone sitting behind a desk miles from the farm. Thus, to the extent practical, farmers should be thinking about potential prevented-plant claims, in addition to getting crops planted.

Documentation of prevented-plant and other crop losses is crucial. When it comes to crop insurance arbitrations, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Digital cameras that record a GPS location, along with a time and date, are an excellent tool.

Precision-planting technology is being utilized more frequently, and the data recorded during planting can provide your attorney with a wealth of information. Even if you do not use the information gathered with these technologies in your own operation, if you have the technology available it is wise to put it to use in the event you later have a dispute over a prevented-plant claim.

Although this advice might come too late for many of the planting deadlines, it is also helpful to track weather and precipitation. Maintaining a daily log and recording precipitation and other weather data can provide pivotal evidence in a crop insurance arbitration. Although information services such as the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network are always available, farmers know that precipitation levels can vary significantly, not only between recording stations, but even between their own fields. Farm-specific data can make a difference in some arbitrations.

Requirements for collecting on a prevented-plant claim go beyond your own farm. You need to show that you were prevented from planting because of overly wet conditions that prevented other producers from planting acreage with similar characteristics. Talk to your neighbors and, if possible, use a digital camera to show that surrounding fields similar to yours could not be planted.

You must also prove you had the inputs available to plant and produce the crop. Keep thorough records of your readiness to plant, such as contracts to buy seed and fertilizer, receipts and so forth.

Be sure to promptly report your claim to your agent. For prevented-plant claims, notice of loss must be within 72 hours from the final planting date for each insured crop. On the other hand, once you have reported your loss, do not be too quick to sign off on a loss appraisal from your insurer. Many of the crop insurance arbitrations handled by our firm involve a dispute over the amount of the loss, rather than simply an outright denial of benefits. You have one year to demand arbitration, so there is no need to sign off on an appraisal if you believe it does not accurately reflect the degree of your loss. That said, you also should not wait until the last minute to take action. As always, speak to your attorney about your legal options if you find yourself in a dispute with your insurer.

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