Agriculture

Supporting Your Agriculture Clients During Change

Agriculture is virtually unrecognizable compared to fifty years ago. In 1962, a single farmer fed 25.8 people. The same farmer now feeds 155 people — and they do it on fewer acres thanks to changes in technologies generally and rapid improvements in crop management.

Whether it’s managing staff during a pandemic or dealing with the onset of automation, you can be there for your farming, livestock, and agribusiness clients — whatever the weather. Here are a few ways you can support your agricultural clients when change comes knocking on their door.

Maintain a Consistent Communication Schedule

In order for you to serve your clients well, you need to talk to them. Your goal is to be proactive rather than reactive so that your clients are never caught uncovered or undercovered. 

Your complex and high-risk clients shouldn’t see your name come up on Caller ID and wonder who you are or why you’re calling.

As a rule of thumb, check in with your clients at least quarterly during a ‘normal year’ for your audit. If you have ag clients who work in particularly volatile conditions, it may be suitable to check in more often. These conditions can include political, economic, or even meteorological volatility. 

And when the whole economy goes through a period of uncertainty, make it a point to pick up the phone right away. You can’t help your clients if you don’t know what challenges they’re facing, and you can’t know their problems if you don’t ask.

Identify Your Agricultural Client’s Challenges

When you think of challenging times, you tend to think of devastation: fires, floods, earthquakes, or pandemics. These threaten life and property, but they’re not the only changes that can impact the agricultural sector.

Dramatic changes in federal farm programs, globalization of markets and resulting changes in tariffs and trade agreements, increased environmental protection and conservation, and new complex technologies can all upend your clients’ current modes of working. They’re the impetus for scaling production or laying off workers.

The changes themselves not only present challenges, but they have knock-on effects that take a medium-term toll on your clients’ businesses.

Some of these challenges may include:

  • Fewer customers 
  • Customers spending less on average
  • Operational challenges, such as interrupted supply chains
  • Government restrictions
  • Issues finding staff
  • Managing the aftermath of a safety incident

Build on State and Federal OSHA Compliance

Agriculture clients must comply with state and federal OSHA rules regardless of whether they’re going through times of upheaval. OSHA wants to see a safety management plan from every agricultural business in its purview (farms with 11 or more employees at any point during the past 12 months or providing temporary accommodation).

So even if they lay off half their staff and fall below the 11 or more rule, they’ll still need to meet OSHA employer responsibilities.

Your clients will need to update their safety plan to reflect new changes in operations or staffing, particularly if they need to make changes to process chemicals, raw materials, and processing conditions.

Take extra care when working with clients who make changes to chemical processes. 

If your client does work with chemicals (e.g., pesticides) and falls under federal (and most state) OSHA compliance requirements, they need to use the Chemical Process Safety Management (PSM) to track and implement changes associated with chemical use. They’ll also need to follow the Management of Change (MOC) procedure, which includes:

  • Identifying the technical basis for the change
  • Assessing impact of changes on health and safety
  • Outlining necessary time period for change
  • Determining modifications to operating procedures
  • Receiving authorization requirements for the proposed change

If you’re not already familiar with recent OSHA changes in agriculture, you can find more resources here.

Ensure All Clients Have the Correct Cover

You already review your client’s policies annually, but if they’re going through a turbulent period, it’s time to take a second look. You want to scale for changes in risk as well as changes in payroll, including adding, losing, or switching to contract or temp staff instead of permanent employees.

Remember that all of the challenges listed above can have knock-on effects that cause fluctuations in payroll, whether it’s a change in the number of employees they have or the type of employees they hire.

Are Your Agricultural Clients Exempt? Maybe Not

Keep in mind that many agricultural employers, particularly small farms, may wrongly believe they’re exempt from workers compensation regulations. 

To be exempt, they need to meet strict requirements. It’s up to you to work closely with clients to make sure they remain compliant in your state, particularly if they’re looking for ways to cut costs. Failing to have the proper workers’ compensation coverage can cost more than the premium. In California, agricultural businesses without the right coverage will pay a penalty of at least $1,500 per employee. Plus, no one gets back to work until the business has insurance. 

(There are no penalties in Texas for clients who opt out of workers’ compensation. Only agricultural clients with government contracts must have workers’ compensation.)

If your client is truly exempt from your state’s rules, and they do want to leave workers’ compensation behind, be sure to discuss other options, like Farm Employer’s Liability products. You want to make sure they aren’t vulnerable if someone gets injured when visiting or working on their property.

Act as Your Client’s Advocate

While you can’t legally represent your clients, you are their insurance advocate when it’s time to make a claim.

Your role is to make sure that everything is communicated correctly — both to the insurer and the insured. Your expertise in insurance and your knowledge of your client should make sure neither side finds themselves facing any surprises.

Explain your clients’ coverage correctly when they present claims to the insurer.

An important way you can act as an advocate is in risk management. Agriculture is one of the most hazardous industries in the U.S. and around the globe. It’s always helpful reviewing NIOSH’s Farmer Safety Survey and working with clients to develop risk management strategies and programs to prevent losses as often as possible.

Work With Local Ag Extension Programs

Most universities and colleges with a rural footprint run an Agriculture Extension Program that acts as a real asset both to farmers and to you. The programs run research projects, education, and provide support to communities across the agricultural industry. In economies dependent on agriculture, you can usually find an extension office in each county.

Local governments are another good but often underfunded resource available to both you and your clients. If you are working with your client to troubleshoot an issue or find evidence of an existing issue to produce for claims adjusters or underwriters, then these professionals can either help or point you in the right direction.

Are you currently serving clients in Texas? Find the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension program here.

Keep Up With Insurance Market Changes

Sometimes, your agricultural clients’ will experience local changes governed by their location, industry, or even their niche. In other cases, such as during a global pandemic, the change your clients face will also impact the insurance industry through global market changes and legislation.

It’s vital to be honest about what’s happening in the insurance market. Let them know how their insurer is faring, what changes are imminent, and what’s potentially coming down the pipeline. Because agricultural clients are used to working with many variables, they are deft planners.

You don’t need to scare them or warn them. Instead, use these transparent conversations as a tool, so they know what to expect and can minimize disruption.

Farmers Are Used to Change, But They Still Value Allies

Agriculture today is virtually unrecognizable compared to 50 or even 20 years ago. In some respects, that’s a good thing. Technology has improved yield, reduced hazards, and simplified the heavy-lifting needed to complete day-to-day tasks. Agricultural clients are familiar with change, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need an ally when dealing with their insurers.

You can be that ally in a sea of change.

Are you ready to provide even better service to your agricultural clients? Be a part of transforming workers compensation by getting appointed with Foresight.

Author: Foresight

We’re a team of compliance, safety, and commercial insurance professionals transforming workers compensation. We write about technology, trends, regulations, and value-adding services.