Mutual insurers can inspect farms for sustainability: OMIA convention

Major grocers want to buy sustainably-grown food and need knowledgeable inspectors who can ensure principles are being followed, says agricultural expert

Mutual farm insurance providers’ traditional inspection skills could have an important role to play in the process of bringing sustainable food products to market, according to Gord Surgeoner, an associate with Ontario Agri-Food Technologies, who spoke at the Ontario Mutual Insurance Association’s annual convention in Toronto on Thursday.

Major retailers and their customers are calling for their produce and meat to be developed through environmentally-friendly methods, which will require inspections of farms in order to ensure those principles are being followed. And that is where the mutual insurer can come in, says Surgeoner.

“You already have underwriters and inspectors that go on the farms to look at liability insurance. Well, we’re developing all of these sustainability [programs and] who is going to be the inspector [for those]?” he said.

Mutual farm insurers could fill an important need in the evolving area of sustainable production. In addition to assessing farming properties for risks due to traditional climate conditions such as water and wind, insurers can also analyze farmers’ adherence to sustainability principles that include not farming on protected land and fair treatment of labourers, according to Surgeoner.

Mutual farm insurers have a few key advantages in being able to provide this type of service. Firstly, there is a level of trust between the farming client and the insurer, who has developed a relationship with the client through regularly scheduled inspections for insurance coverage, Surgeoner explained.

Secondly, the insurer understands the business of farming though Surgeoner notes that some additional education on environmental principles may be necessary.

Mutual insurers can also help their clients by sharing best practices learned from their work in inspecting multiple farms, Surgeoner suggested.

The service is one that is sought out by major grocers and product distributors who want to prove to their customers that their products are safe as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors and protect themselves from liability, according to Surgeoner.

“[The companies] don’t care who does [the inspections] as long as it’s someone who knows the business and your people know the business,” he said.

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