Cloud seeding program stirs controversy in Central Alberta

The hail reduction program meant to relieve damage in Red Deer is causing havoc on Central Alberta farms.

The hail reduction program meant to relieve damage in Red Deer is causing havoc on Central Alberta farms.

The process is unfair and convoluted, said Brian Burrington, a farmer who lives south of Rocky Mountain House.

He said the deductible amount in the hail and wind insurance policy for his farm, under Peace Hills Insurance, was raised from $500 to $2,500 after companies chose to “seed the clouds” in his area.

He admitted that he has made previous claims, but unlike vehicle insurance, farmers have no control over hail caused by weather modification, he said.

“The insurance companies are causing the hail, something we have no control over, and now we are paying for it.

“Out here, we should be getting a reduction because they are deliberately dumping hail on us.”

Cloud seeding enhances a cloud’s ability to produce precipitation and is intended to soften hail. In this process, planes fly into the clouds and shoot silver iodide into them, which can help induce the formation of ice.

Dr. Terry Krauss, project director of the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society, who oversees the cloud seeding program Alberta Hail Suppression, said Rocky Mountain House is in the program’s target area as storms come from the foothills.

The program, he said, is funded by the Alberta Severe Weather Management Society, which was created by approximately 20 large insurance companies.

The companies have collectively invested $2.5 million in the program, which runs from June 1 to Sept. 15. This pays for two aircraft in Red Deer, two in Calgary and for the operation of radar at the Olds-Didsbury Airport.

“If the (insurance) rates haven’t increased until now, it is an indication of success, not the other way around,” Krauss said.

Earlier in the month, a hail storm hammered Calgary, resulting in an estimated $2 million in damage. Krauss said it could have been much worse if cloud-seeding planes hadn’t attempted to calm the storm down.

“We are in business to try to protect the city and only the storms that threatened a town or city actually get seeded.”

But Burrington questions the logic of this strategy.

“I understand the economics of it on their end but I don’t understand that they are adding costs to us when they are adding a whole lot of damage to us,” he said.

Clearwater County Agricultural Services manager Matt Martinson, who is also a farmer in the area, said he hasn’t noticed increases to his farm insurance but said cloud seeding has been done in the area before.

“A few years back there was some environmental concern because they are basically putting chemicals into the clouds to disperse the precipitation and to reduce the size and the hardness of the hail,” he said, adding that hail in Clearwater County has been sporadic this year.

“There are areas that have been completely untouched, areas slightly bothered and other areas that have had three or four instances of crop damaging hail,” he said.

“This year in particular, there has been quite a few damaging hail storms, which have effected our level of claims,” said Peace Hills Insurance corporate underwriting and marketing assistant Scott Parker.

He said he wasn’t aware if his company was one of the 20 that supported the cloud seeding program in the region.

Agriculture Financial Services Corp. (AFSC) provides farmers, agribusinesses with crop insurance and farm income disaster assistance.

Chris Dick, senior manager of business risk management operations, said 2012 is shaping up to be the worst year for hail damage.

He said AFSC normally receives 5,000 to 6,000 claims a year in Alberta. Already this year, it has processed 9,700 claims. Dicks said he is unable to put a monetary value on those claims at this point in the crop year.

But last year, AFSC paid out more than $205 million under its Hail Endorsment and Straight Hail programs.

jjones@bprda.wpengine.com