Published on 05/30/02

Insurance Variances Plague Onion Growers

Shad Dasher had catastrophic insurance coverage on his Vidalia onion crop, which pays a maximum of 70 percent of the crop's market value per acre.

With 95 percent of his crop ruined, the insurance would have given Dasher $1,800 an acre had the damage happened in the last phase of onion production, near harvest time.

Dasher's insurance adjuster, however, ruled that the damaged happened earlier, around a late frost, which means he will get only $1,080 an acre. That won't cover the cost of his fertilizer, he said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Tattnall County, Kelly Folsom said he lost 70 percent of his crop but will be reimbursed for most of his costs. His crop was figured to have been damaged in the final production stage.

Reid Torrance, the Tattnall County extension coordinator with the University of Georgia Extension Service, says the discrepancy between insurance companies is one of the issues making federal disaster relief a necessity for southeast Georgia onion farmers.

"The lucky ones may get their production costs back," he said. "But they will be the ones in the minority. That's why the growers are petitioning to get some kind of emergency relief."

The number of Vidalia onion farmers has been declining in recent years. "If we don't get any aid," Torrance said, "I'm afraid we're going to have even less onion growers than we had this year."

Torrance said several meetings have already taken place with Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) to try to get federal aid for the onion farmers.

There have also been discussions in the state legislature about standardizing the production stages insurance companies use to decide the amount of damages they pay a farmer.

As it stands, Torrance said, the criteria vary among companies. They can become even more arbitrary with the interpretations of individual adjusters.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.