Exploring Solutions for Agricultural Hail Protection in 2022

While many people associate spring with warmer weather and longer days, farmers know first-hand the destruction this season can bring. As cold air from the north clashes with warm and humid air from the Gulf of Mexico, hailstorms reach their peak. While their frequency increases across the United States, the south-central region can see hailstones as big as baseballs. These massive ice chunks can cause significant damage to both residential and commercial properties.


Agricultural professionals may suffer the most. Planting season generally begins in April, so most crops are still young and vulnerable when the most intense hailstorms hit. If farmers fail to provide adequate protection, their fields could sustain massive damage.


As the climate crisis worsens and extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, it’s crucial that growers employ smart and effective solutions for agricultural hail protection. Luckily, there are a few such technologies available in 2022, so farmers can ensure year-round protection and a consistent yield.


1. Hail Detection and Mapping

The National Weather Service has used the same radar technology to monitor hail events since World War II. Each report details the time, coordinates, county, diameter, and number of fatalities and injuries sustained during each event. However, this radar is incapable of detailing hail swaths’ path and extent. Now, modern mapping technology is making it possible.


By using dual-polarization radar, meteorologists can analyze the heart of a storm and predict the shape, density, and variety of precipitation particles swirling around inside. The radar provides valuable information for farmers by distinguishing between heavy rain, hail, sleet, and snow. However, dual-pol radar does come with limitations.


The up-and-coming technology relies heavily on algorithms. Since each storm is unique, dual-pol radar can only provide estimates on swaths’ exact location and hail size zones. Current technology also fails to provide exact precipitation size at ground level. Thus, hail track maps may indicate an artificial degree of certainty and detail.


Farmers should, therefore, only use dual-pol radar reports as a first alert. If they want more comprehensive data, they can consult a forensic meteorologist who’ll consider factors that automated hail detection and mapping products cannot: melting considerations, ground-level size estimates, and distance to radar.


2. Crop Hail Insurance

In the United States, growers and producers can purchase a multiple-peril crop insurance policy through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation. However, while it does cover losses due to natural causes like drought and disease, it doesn’t cover damage caused by hail storms. Luckily, they can purchase private crop hail insurance to protect themselves, their fields, and their equipment.


Insurers sell crop hail insurance on an acre-by-acre basis and reimburse farmers for the value of products lost while in the field. This kind of insurance also routinely covers damage caused by fire. Depending on the crop and region of the country, policies may even provide coverage for losses due to lightning, wind, and vandalism. Various options are available to provide different deductibles with lower premium costs.


3. Parametric Hail Insurance Products

Of course, even with crop hail insurance, farmers who file a claim may wait several months before receiving financial compensation. Between providing proof of losses and communicating with adjusters, the process is often time-consuming and tedious. By the time they receive reimbursement, they may have already shelled out thousands of dollars in personal funds to cover the damage. Others may have no choice but to take out a loan and pay interest to stay afloat.


Luckily, recent technological advances are streamlining the process to ensure capital quickly flows to where farmers need it most. By using parametric hail insurance products, like ground-based weather sensors, insurance companies can assess and price weather risks with accuracy and immediacy. These sensors are maintenance-free, fraud-proof, and affordable, regardless of where growers deploy them.


When severe weather strikes, the products will collect data and trigger an automatic payout to reimburse farmers almost immediately. This one-of-a-kind solution also allows crop adjusters to view active hailstorms, follow storm paths, and collect information regarding location, crop stage, and extent of the damage following the event. Some sensors even allow them to see imagery from before and after the storm to make an evaluation and take action.


4. Anti-Hail Netting

While detection radar and crop hail insurance can provide some level of financial protection, they do little to ensure the physical safety of agricultural land. In the event of a hail storm, fields will still sustain damage or, in extreme cases, experience complete destruction. That’s why many agricultural professionals take preventive measures to reduce calamities and protect their fields.


One of the most common solutions is anti-hail netting. This innovation is easy to install and remove and offers protection from hail, snow, wind, rain, and even predators like birds and bats. The netting is available in multiple colors and sizes to accommodate crops with different light requirements and growth rates. Farmers can also choose from different styles, including raschel drape, leno woven, and raschel quad crossover netting, to find a pattern that best suits their needs and goals.


Regardless of which pattern or color they employ, farmers may still struggle to protect their crops from especially large or heavy hail because the netting only lasts so long. If they fail to perform regular maintenance, lightweight nets may be susceptible to rips and tears, which can expose crops to inclement weather. Additionally, most ag netting products don’t comply with local building codes, so if one fails and injures someone, producers may run into legal trouble.


5. Cloud Seeding

Agricultural specialists have implemented cloud seeding for decades because it's proven effective in numerous countries around the world. Essentially, the process involves sending jets into thunderstorms and releasing billions of silver iodide smoke particles. These particles act as artificial ice crystals and freeze water droplets in the storm’s updraft. In response, the clouds release a large amount of pebble-sized hailstones rather than a small amount of larger, more damaging ones.


This solution’s effectiveness differs from project to project. For example, in the event of a supercell, cloud seeding is unlikely to do much in terms of reducing hail size. Meanwhile, in areas like Mendoza, Argentina, there’s little evidence to suggest that suppression efforts support a decrease in hail size and frequency.


Cloud seeding is also an expensive venture, so it’s unlikely to solve every problem. Even so, it could serve as a tool to turn a bad year into an average one, especially for farmers in hailstorm alleys like Alberta, Canada. Here, cloud seeding efforts have reduced golf-ball-sized hail to pea-sized stones to protect both urban and residential areas from potential damage.


The Future Agricultural Hail Protection

As the climate crisis grows direr and weather conditions worsen, hail storms and other natural disasters will become even more common. In a race against time, farmers, innovators, and today’s top minds will likely collaborate to form new solutions for agricultural hail protection. New technology will hit the market and their mass production will help defend croplands across the globe.


In the meantime, current innovations must suffice. It’s simply a matter of finding and implementing the right ones.


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