WA snaps up frost cover

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Frosted heads of Latrobe malting barley.
Camera IconFrosted heads of Latrobe malting barley. Credit: Scott Crosby

WA grain growers took out more than half of all of Australia’s first frost insurance policies, with most of them farming from between Perth, Kondinin and Tambellup.

For the first time, Australian grain growers were last year able to insure their crops specifically against frost and crop establishment failure through grain marketer AWB, as an add-on to its existing fire and hail policies.

WA led the way for frost claims, followed by South Australia and Victoria, while there was “little uptake” in our State for crop establishment failure insurance.

AWB business development manager Andrew Gregor said the company, owned by Cargill Australia, had been “heartened” by WA’s frost insurance take-up, with policies taken out by farmers ranging from a “Bermuda triangle” of frost-prone areas to those where frost was more uncommon.

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“About half of our policies came from WA . . . the interest is heartening for us to keep going and trying to bring this type of product to life,” he said.

“We hear the term ‘a Bermuda triangle’ for frosts from Perth, directly east to Kondinin, and then down to that Broomehill, Tambellup area.

“We would have had a majority of our policies from that area . . . but we did see good take-up further north, even at Mt Marshall.

“The price is lower in those lower-risk areas, but there is still value there.”

AWB’s frost and crop establishment failure scheme signalled a new era in crop protection when it was announced in May last year.

Claims are made and assessed after frost damage becomes evident, and successful growers paid after harvest.

The crop establishment failure policy meant growers took out insurance in August or September, for the following year, and generally made a claim the next May or June if necessary.

Mr Gregor said the company was fine-tuning both policies this year.

Although it had been possible to insure against these risks for years, as part of the broader multi-peril crop insurance, there had been relatively low uptake because of the high premiums.

Mr Gregor said the frost and crop establishment policies gave growers a more specific option after years of considering broader insurance risks, many of which may not be relevant.

“There has been good work done to help manage the risk of frost, but no matter what farmers do, there is still a residual risk left over,” he said.

“There just were not the tools out there to help growers manage that residual risk.”

While AWB offers growers free quote, the cost of adding frost varies depending on areas and is calculated by the farm’s location and frost risk.

AWB entered the WA crop insurance market in 2015.

It has a small market share of less than five per cent, but Mr Gregor said he was confident the company would grow this through innovative products.

Average lost from frost is estimated to cost $400 million a year across Australia, according to the Grains Research Development Corporation.

WA was hit particularly hard by multiple frosts in 2016, wiping an estimated one to two million tonnes from the annual grains harvest.

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