The Sprout || Wildfires, hurricanes, derechos, oh my!

Miraculously, they survived, though many of her neighbors weren’t that lucky. Girl on a Hill and Castle Rock Farm were just several of the farms that had their entire operations wiped out. As of Sunday evening, the LNU Lightning Complex Fires have burned more than 341,000 acres in Sonoma, Napa and Lake counties, impacting agriculture communities known for diverse family farms, destroyed 845 structures, and killed 4. The fire is just 17 percent contained, and ranks as the second-largest blaze in state history.

This excerpt from Civil Eats paints a jarring picture of the utter havoc a natural disaster can wreak on the farm. Wildfires, hurricanes, derechos, it feels like it just won’t stop. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough for farmers to contend with already…How can you protect your farm when Mother Nature unleashes her fury?

We have one painfully boring but totally crucial word for you here at Farm Commons: Insurance. When it comes to natural disasters, farmers can best protect themselves by making sure they have adequate property insurance and also crop/livestock insurance. Property insurance will pay farmers the cash they need to rebuild the barn that burns down; crop or livestock insurance will pay farmers the cash they would have received for selling their farm products that burned/washed away/blew away in a derecho…

To get property insurance, you will need to work with an insurance broker or insurance agent, hopefully someone who understands farming. If you already have a policy, your action step is to update your declarations list , as well as the insured value of each listed asset. This should be done every year.

To get crop or livestock insurance, you also turn to local insurance agents authorized to sell policies sourced through the USDA’s Risk Management Agency. Many of these policies aren’t particularly helpful to diversified and direct to consumer farmers, as they don’t adequately provide value in terms of covering lost revenue at a premium that farmers find affordable. However, they are the only option for most producers. Check out our podcast on Whole Farm Revenue Protection, which does cover multiple crops, including specialty crops. You can learn more about insurance options for the farm in our guide Managing the Sustainable Farm’s Risks with Insurance: Navigating Common Options.

If you have experienced a natural disaster already and are looking for disaster relief, Farmers Legal Action Group (FLAG) is your go to resource – they have an excellent updated resource on WHIP, the federal relief program for wildfires, hurricanes etc. USDA also has a disaster assistance recovery tool where you can input information about the disaster you’ve experienced and see what program you may qualify for. These programs have some shortcomings for the smaller, sustainable farm, but it is worthwhile learning about them because you just may get the help you need. Also, as climate chaos becomes more frequent, these programs may be adjusted to provide broader coverage for more types of farmers.