Red Deer County councillor and market gardener Lonny Kennett is hopeful efforts to improve insurance coverage for smaller producers will bear fruit.
A pair of hailstorms that swept through central Alberta severely damaging crops and a number of market gardens led to calls for better insurance coverage for smaller farms.
Large producers routinely turn to crop insurance to ease some of the financial losses caused by natural disasters, such as hailstorms or drought. While insurance is available for those producing fruits and vegetables on often just a few acres, it is prohibitively expensive for most.
On Tuesday, county council voted to support a draft resolution calling for affordable and adequate insurance coverage for market gardens to go the Rural Municipalities of Alberta’s (RMA) fall conference in Edmonton Nov. 7-10.
Cody McIntosh, county agricultural services manager, told council that the Alberta Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry have appeared receptive to improving insurance coverage.
AFSC officials and Agriculture and Forestry Minister Nate Horner and his staff had met at The Jungle Farm, which suffered devastating losses to its fruit and vegetable crops after a pair of hailstorms less than a month apart hammered the farm, 10 km north of Innisfail, in July and August.
McIntosh said the AFSC is planning to meet with market gardeners and other stakeholders to get feedback this fall. Proposals for additional coverage could be considered as early as the spring. Alberta Agriculture officials have also expressed a willingness to work with the AFSC on changes, said McIntosh.
Kennett is encouraged that the issue appears to be getting to the right ears.
“I think Minister Horner gets what’s going on and how the industry needs help to cover severe weather problems,” said Kennett, who runs Rare Farms, a 2.5-acre market garden about six km east of Red Deer. He was among those who suffered significant hail losses this summer.
“And it’s great this council gets and we can help to say to the minister, ‘Hey, this is an important issue to a lot of people in the community.’”
Kennett believes the scale of the damage this summer has pushed the insurance issue to the fore.
“There were two major storms that really hit everybody. I know at the farmer’s markets they are seeing a lot of shortages right now, even with the carrots and potatoes and other root vegetables.”
“It’s had such a knock-on effect and when you add in drought and everything else it’s an issue for everybody.”
“(The insurance) is just a little help for us to get through the tough times when they come.”
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood said it is important for residents in the region to have access to good quality food.
“The market gardens provide that,” said Wood.
Since the county missed the deadline to submit resolutions for the fall conference, it must be submitted as an “emergent” resolution. A resolution committee determines if it is urgent enough to become a late addition for resolution debates.
Coun. Dana Depalme said having the RMA’s backing would strengthen the case for insurance changes.
“I do feel the RMA will put more pressure on them. I definitely support this.”
Even if the resolution does not make the cut, Red Deer County will continue to push the issue, said Coun. Philip Massier.
“If it doesn’t make it it doesn’t mean it falls off the table for this council,” he said.