By KEVIN WALKER
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The USDA is now offering a new crop insurance product for apple growers, which will provide coverage against damage to the tree rather than just coverage against loss of production.
“Historically, we’ve never had a policy that’s actually covered the tree,” said Kevin Robson, Michigan Farm Bureau’s manager of crop insurance. “This new product actually covers the tree itself. This policy covers the grower’s investment. It takes at least three years for a new apple tree to come online. If a new tree is damaged or dies due to bad weather or diseases, the tree can be covered by this new insurance.”
According to Robson, who is also executive director of the Michigan Blueberry Commission, the overwhelming majority of apple growers currently have the insurance that’s been available for years, which provides coverage for a loss of yield. Michigan currently has 32,000 acres of working apple orchards, and ranks number three in apple production, with 28 million bushels grown in 2018, behind only New York, with 31 million bushels; and Washington state, with 171 million bushels.
Growers have until April 15 to sign up for the 2021 crop year, which would include protection for this coming winter. Important components of the new program include, a sales closing date of April 21, with coverage commencing on July 1, 2020; a tree-based dollar amount of insurance with liability on a per tree basis; different coverage elections are available for each tree type; covered perils include freeze, wind, hail, fire, insects, and diseases; additional optional coverages are also available, such as comprehensive tree value endorsement, fire blight endorsement (mandatory for Michigan producers) and occurrence loss option.
“Some trees can cost $10 apiece; if a grower plants 1,200 trees, that’s a lot of money,” Robson said. “Apple trees are planted much closer together today and rows are much closer together, also.”
Much as with cherry trees today, apple trees have been bred to be almost like bushes, making it feasible to plant the trees closer together. This also makes it much easier to pick the fruit from the tree.
“It’s definitely a unique program,” Robson added. “The Risk Management Agency (RMA) rolling out this program shows that the federal crop insurance program has a good handle on how the industry functions in the United States. It’s comforting to know that RMA is developing products that align with the apple industry’s way of growing its product.”
Initially, the policy will be available to apple growers in New York, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia.
“The current crop insurance program helps growers mitigate risk, but the policies only apply to the apples, not the trees themselves,” said U.S. Apple Assoc. President and CEO Jim Bair in a published report from 2017, when the new Apple Tree Insurance program was under development. “Developing an apple tree policy will fill a gap in coverage and protect the investment in trees, arguably the most costly component of apple production.”
Additional details of the program can be found in the Apple Tree Crop Insurance Standards Handbook, published by RMA online. Do a search in Google or other search engine using the search terms Apple Tree Insurance.