Not surprisingly, the idea of agriculture insurance became reality in the late 1930s, after Canadian and American farmers struggled for years in the dust bowl. Faced with unemployment, hunger and no signs of relief in sight, the United States unveiled the Federal Crop Insurance Act in 1938 and the Canadian Parliament passed the Prairie Farm Assistance Act the following year.
The programs were the first of their kind and experimental in nature, so perhaps we can forgive their early shortcomings. Over the years, crop insurance programs have improved to allow producers a shot at farming in the harsh conditions and climates of the North American grasslands, and also made them viable for government agencies. Crop insurance has also grown to encompass more than just the coverage of grain crops. Agricultural producers can now find assistance with fruits and vegetables, livestock, even honey and maple syrup production.
Can we now insure pasture?
Pasture production has proven to be a tricky point of consternation for insurance providers. You can’t simply harvest grass and weigh it in the back of a truck (like you can with grain) to determine how much you’ve got. Even if you could, it’s hard to say how much the cattle have eaten. And you can’t determine the quality of grass without sifting through the many acres—sometimes thousands of acres—of pasture. You’d have to find and count every green blade of grass for insurance to work the way it does for other produce. If only the cattle could share their satisfaction with an annual yield.
Our satellite imaging project, titled “Remote Sensing Applications to Insure Individual Farm Forage Production,” takes aim at the problem of pasture insurance by quantifying grass production using modern technology. We think that by measuring a pasture’s “greenness” and finding out how much grass produced in a season (by weight) is equal to a specific colour score (called the normalized difference vegetation index, or NDVI), we’ll be able to set up a viable insurance model. We hope to use information gathered from satellites over the past ten years to set average pasture productions that will act as baselines to compare against current production.
Simply put: We hope our research will lead to the creation of an agriculture insurance program through which you may be able to submit a claim if your own pasture has produced substantially less than on average (normal production).
We also hope that our research will allow for the creation of risk management tools that can protect ranchers against the extra costs of buying feed or transporting cattle to a better area in the midst of an area-wide production shortage.
Our work has already begun, and will continue through 2016. We hope you keep an eye on this blog to follow our progress and offer your feedback. It’s important that we approach the challenge of quantifying farm forage production with the producer’s perspective in mind, and offer you the opportunity to leave questions and comments for our team at any time. Use the comment boxes that follow each of our blog posts or contact us.