By Julia Smith
There is an insurance crisis in the small-scale farm industry in BC. Access to insurance was listed as one of the top challenges for producers in the Small-Scale Meat Producers (SSMPA) Industry Survey Report, published in 2022. The market to insure diversified farms is slim and almost completely non-existent for farm businesses that depend on on-farm slaughter to be profitable. Rates for insurable farms are so high as to render them uninsurable for all intents and purposes. Consequently, many producers are forced to decide between operating without insurance or not operating at all. Climate related events like the wildfires of 2017 and 2021, droughts, flooding, heat domes and atmospheric rivers have strained the insurance industry resulting in increasing premiums for producers with decreasing coverage.
As disaster recovery programs roll out across the province, many producers are finding that they are ineligible for recovery programs because their losses were technically insurable, however unaffordable.
Changes to meat processing regulations opened up new opportunities for farmers and ranchers to slaughter their animals on-farm in October, 2021. The Farmgate and Farmgate Plus licence program allows producers to slaughter up to 25 Animal Units (AU, 25,000lbs live weight) on their farm. The program includes training and oversight by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Meat Inspection Branch.
This initially seemed like a good start towards addressing the bottleneck producers were facing but as people obtained their licences, they quickly realized that they would not be able to insure on-farm slaughter. Many new Farmgate licence holders received notifications from their insurance providers terminating their coverage without alternative after obtaining a Farmgate slaughter license.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food developed these new regulations after four years of consultations, with primary consideration being made for the health and safety of our food system. A 2009 Risk Assessment obtained by SSMPA by a Freedom of Information request clearly demonstrated the safety of the on-farm slaughter activities now regulated under the Farmgate and Farmgate Plus licenses. It is unreasonable that a legal, licensable, safe part of our food system should be so difficult to insure. Processing and selling meat without insurance is undesirable for both producers and consumers and for the industry as a whole.
For the past two years, SSMPA has endeavoured to work with the insurance industry to develop an insurance package that will include coverage for Farmgate licensees. SSMPA undertook a new survey in early 2023 in order to better quantify and understand the barriers producers are facing with regards to insurance, and what could be done to address these challenges. Through surveys and focus groups, SSMPA identified a gap in understanding between producers and insurance companies regarding the risks associated with running on-farm slaughter operations that urgently needed to be addressed.
BFL Canada Risk & Insurance Services Inc. was interested in exploring this disconnect and worked with the SSMPA and Peace Hills Insurance to bridge that gap. Together, we were able to come up with a solution for the sector including farms, ranches, Farmgate licensees, and other small abattoirs and cut and wrap shops.
“I’m thrilled to be able to offer this comprehensive package with discounted commercial liability rates for SSMPA members including tailored coverage options for farm assets and liability that are unique to small-scale meat producers,” said small-scale meat producer preferred broker Crystal Piggott.
Fresh Valley Farms, a certified organic, diversified livestock operation near Armstrong was having difficulties finding an insurer for their business, which includes an inspected poultry abattoir and cut and wrap shop. BFL was able to offer them the
comprehensive package they needed at an affordable rate.
“Crystal was efficient to work with, understood the agricultural sector, and communicated promptly and with clarity. She got us the insurance that we needed and wanted to help our business grow,” said Annelise Grube-Cavers of Fresh Valley Farms. Raquel Kokof of Hough Heritage Farm in Gibsons, BC had been told by her insurance provider that they could not find coverage for any on-farm slaughter operation. “I am elated at the news of SSMPA once again coming through with tangible support for BC’s small-scale meat producers. As a Farmgate plus licence holder, having comprehensive farm insurance for on-farm slaughter and butchering means I can continue to run my farm business, which provides nutrient dense meat to my community. By providing essential insurance options, SSMPA is enabling small scale meat producers to increase the production of ethical and sustainably produced meat throughout the province and thereby giving a real boost to our localized food security,” she said.
The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association is accepting new memberships and renewals for 2023/24 on their website at smallscalemeat.ca
Members will find the application forms for the new insurance package in their member portal and can expect to save, on average, $500 on their commercial insurance package with the SSMPA member discount.
Julia raises critically endangered Red Wattle hogs at Blue Sky Ranch in Nlaka’pamux Territory near Merritt, BC with her partner, Ludo. Over the past 12 years she has raised a wide range of livestock and now enjoys range riding for a number of local cattle ranchers. She is the Executive Director and Project Manager of the Small-Scale Meat Producers Association where she is most passionate about supporting other farmers to build resilient, fulfilling businesses.
The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association represents British Columbia farmers and ranchers who are raising meat outside of the conventional, industrial system. We are a registered non-profit society made up of primary producers, meat processing professionals, and supportive individuals and organizations. Our mission is to build greater stability and growth opportunities for small-scale meat producers in British Columbia.
Featured image: Friendly cow at Bridge Creek Ranch. Credit: Maylies Lang.