New England’s agricultural sector is a big part of our economy. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the market value of land and buildings in New England farms is $20.6 billion, with an additional $2.3 million in property and equipment; these farms reported sales of $2.8 billion in agricultural products. That’s a lot of economic activity in a sector laden with risk.
With a mission to support the economic viability of New England’s family farmers, the New England Farmers Union works to make sure that producers in the region have the tools, knowledge and resources they need to manage the risks inherent in their business. Often that means bringing a unified voice to Washington, D.C., to ensure that federal policy works for New England. It also means ensuring that member producers have access to the insurance products and services they need.
When your personal assets are used for commercial activities, the downside of something going wrong is enormous. Insurance is an important risk management tool to help mitigate the financial impact of a loss. However, farm insurance can be confusing.
Over the past year, NEFU President Roger Noonan has been working with Kinney Pike Insurance, an independent insurance agency, and Acadia Insurance, a regionally focused insurance provider, to develop a farm insurance program. The program focuses on providing coverage targeted to New England producers and emphasizes farmer education.
“With this program, we can offer New England’s family farmers access to a quality product to manage the risks inherent in the business of agriculture,” Noonan said. “The added value of Acadia’s loss prevention program will help farmers reduce exposure to risks on and off the farm.”
Like the NEFU, Acadia believes in the power of locally driven solutions. With offices throughout New England, Acadia works through a network of independent agents who help ensure that the farmer’s voice is heard.
So much of delivering a good product involves understanding the nature of agriculture in the region. For example, Maine’s potato farmers were frustrated with insurance offerings that required them to weigh the potatoes in each of their storage buildings once a month. Many of these large-scale potato producers used dozens of buildings to store potatoes – as many as 70. The measurement requirement was creating a nightmare: Producers spent a lot of time handling potatoes, and their agents spent a lot of time writing reports. Acadia developed a different approach that requires producers to weigh their in-storage annual maximum – one weighing per year and a lot of time saved for both farmers and agents.
The farm insurance program came about through a desire to address an unmet need. Kinney Pike realized that some farmers felt they didn’t know who to trust and what coverage to seek. The NEFU recognized that a good insurance product was essential to support the economic viability of New England producers. Kinney Pike and the NEFU worked with Acadia to develop the program.
“Beginning farmers and established producers, large-scale dairy operations and very small vegetable operations all need insurance, and this program is designed to be able to meet the needs of all of them,” Noonan said.
Debra Goodwin, a farmer and Acadia agribusiness underwriter, said, “One of the best things about our ‘Closer Coverage’ insurance model is that we can spend the time to educate farmers about their insurance choices. I recently spent several hours with an agent and a woman who raises goats on a very small scale. At the end of our meeting, she told me that she finally understands what insurance is and feels confident about what she is buying.”
Acadia’s independent agents live and work in the same communities as their customers, allowing them to provide advice to beginning producers as well as growing producers whose insurance needs change as their businesses evolve.
“Our agent will see a customer who has expanded a farmstand into a farm store and will reach out to help that customer understand what insurance coverages will best protect her investment,” Goodwin explained.
“Connecting our members with service providers that are working in partnership with them is an important additional benefit of the insurance program,” Noonan said.
The value of the farm insurance program will be greater if more farmers participate. With this awareness, the NEFU and Kinney Pike decided the program should be offered through all Acadia independent agents. Hopefully, as more producers participate there will be the opportunity to develop services targeted to specific farm types: maple producers, blueberry growers, urban farmers, etc.
If you’re interested in exploring this new program, please reach out to Kinney Pike, the NEFU, or your local independent insurance agent. The NEFU is a member-supported organization; your membership contribution (http://www.newenglandfarmersunion.org/join) supports the NEFU’s efforts to ensure that producers in the region are heard in Washington, D.C., in the insurance market, and wherever else the membership directs.