Crop insurance: Payouts hinge on cause of tunnel collapse

FORT LARAMIE – Farmers along the Fort Laramie-Gering Irrigation Canal are looking to the skies for rain, to the heavens for answers and to a team of engineers and heavy equipment operators to figure out a way to get the canal flowing as their crops are going on three weeks without irrigation after a tunnel along the canal collapsed on July 17, which has caused the canal to go dry. 

Another place they’re looking for relief might be their crop insurance providers, but according to a press release issued by the University of Nebraska economist Cory Walters and extension educator Jessica Groskopf, there’s going to be a lot of red tape, investigation and general figuring before its determined if the tunnel collapse is covered by crop insurance. 

At this point, the release said, it’s simply an unknown. 

“Crop Insurance provides protection against “unavoidable, naturally occurring events,” the release said. “Due to the complexity of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie situation, it is unknown if crop insurance will cover crop loss.”

According to the release, crop insurance is actually a federal program operated by the United State Department of Agriculture Risk Management Agency. Regardless of the crop insurance agent, the “unavoidable, naturally occurring events” clause is in every policy. 

“All crop insurance policies, regardless of the crop insurance agent, are subject to the same provisions,’ the release said. “Thus if it is determined that the tunnel collapse was not from an “unavoidable, naturally occurring event,” all crop insurance policy holders on the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie Canal would not receive an indemnity payment for their crop loss.

To date, the exact cause of the tunnel collapse is undetermined, and it’s likely that several factors could be to blame. During a stakeholders meeting in Scottsbluff last week, Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District Supervisor Rick Preston said engineers are speculating that there isn’t just one reason why the collapse occurred. 

“I could give you a real quick synopsis of what the engineers speculate could have happened,” Preston said. “This tunnel was built in 1917. In order for our forefathers to do this, they had to put wood shoring through this hill to prep it and pour the cast-in-place concrete. 

“After they were finished with that, the shoring remained. After the last 200 years, as you well know, that material does deteriorate and go back to powder, or whatever it may be. Also, mother nature gave the ground a drink of water. 

“In their speculation, they’re  thinking the cause was the timber rotting and the water that worked its way into these areas into the last 100 years of so, it created a void. The void finally became big enough that the upper soils could no longer carry themselves. When it released, it released with such force that it pushed the top of the tunnel in. At present, we do not know what the actual damage is. The engineers made it clear that no one goes in except professionals.”

The National Weather Service in Cheyenne reported that there has been between 200 and 300 percent more rainfall this year than the average amount, and reports that no areas in Wyoming are experiencing drought conditions. That much moisture could have definitely had an impact, the release said. 

According to the release, farmers affected by the collapse should treat their crops as if the water could return at any moment. 

“Farmers in the affected area need to continue to manage their crop as if water will return to the canal and they will covered by their crop insurance policy,” the release said. “Failure to do so may negate individual crop insurance coverage. Producers must receive written permission from the insurance company to replant, abandon or destroy a crop.”

According to USDA data, there were 375 cases of indemnity-only payments for failure of an irrigation supply nationwide in 2018, and over 500 cases of indemnity payments with a month of loss. A loss of an irrigation source isn’t an unheard of occurrence – but in this case, it all comes down to the reason why the tunnel collapsed. 


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