Why more California rain could mean bigger problems for your wine, vineyard business
More rain means … more fires? It seems counterintuitive, but that’s the possibility the California wine industry is facing. The rains that seemed like a welcome relief from drought might hit the state twofold: first with flooding then with fire.
FROM DROUGHT TO FLOODS
According to the United States Drought Monitor, California experienced drought conditions for 376 weeks – that’s more than seven years. This streak finally came to an end this March.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that this winter was the wettest on record. The country experienced 9.01 inches of precipitation, which is 2.22 inches more than the average. These heavier-than-average rains resulted in floods and created some vineyard-erosion problems.
Grapevines are not insurable from water-related losses. Above ground vineyard infrastructures, buildings, tenant improvements, contents (such as operating equipment and inventory) and loss of revenue are often insured by flood due to lender requirements or when business owners electively choose to purchase separate specialty flood insurance policies.
FROM FLOODS TO FIRE
While flooding is clearly a problem, the extra vegetation that thrives can lead to another problem. A hotter-than-average summer – such as one fueled by climate change – can cause vegetation to dry out faster. With all this natural kindling in place, it doesn’t take much to start a fire.
Domenic Fino, president of Golden Pacific Crop Insurance Services, advises that when you look at the loss of the crop due to the peril of fire, the first question that an adjuster will ask - and you’ll have to document - is where the fire started and how. So let’s look at a few possible scenarios.
1. Your harvesting equipment malfunctions and results in a fire destroying your crop. That proximate cause of the fire originated from something that was “not naturally” occurring and thus the loss would not be eligible for a payable loss.
2. Harvester malfunction on the neighbor’s field, causing the fire. The wind-blown fire was unable to be contained on their property. The “unavoidable” fire damage you sustained on your field may be covered, because the fire spread out of control.
2017 and 2018 were devastating years for wildfires in California. The Camp Fire in Butte County destroyed the town of Paradise and claimed dozens of lives. It was the deadliest in the state’s history. Amongst insurers, California is now considered to be in the “catastrophic footprint,” along with Florida and Texas, which are historically prone to natural disasters. Anyone hoping for relief in 2019 may be disappointed. The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting above-normal wildfire potential in California this summer.
HOW TO PREPARE
View risk mitigation as an investment not an expense.
Create a fire prevention plan to establish procedures for identifying fire hazards. Hazards will vary by work areas. Have all your employees, supervisors, and managers follow the procedures outlined in your plan.
Establish a maintenance and inspection program for your operating equipment, fire alarm systems and fire extinguishers. Contract with outside specialty companies for regular maintenance.
Update your Emergency Action Plan. Your plan should include where and how you’ll evacuate, how you’ll communicate with others, and identify water sources for firefighters.
Conduct practice evacuation drills and identify the paths of travel should be utilized to get everyone out, which may vary by area, and time of the year.
Support prescribed burns. Prescribed burns can reduce the amount of natural fuel from dry vegetation, thus decreasing the risk of wildfire. The practice can also create fire breaks that help keep fires under control and away from homes and business.
Create defensible space; clear unneeded vegetation. Grasses and underbrush that dry out become a fire risk. Tall vegetation can be especially dangerous because it can allow fires to climb trees.
Be careful when using outdoor equipment or vehicles on grass. Hot engines and sparks can start wildfires.
Develop relationships with remediation companies and disaster recovery services. Knowing what resources are available to you in advance of a disaster, will expedite your recovery. Resources can include temporary office spaces, power generators, internet and phone services and equipment on demand.
Change starts with each of us. If we do our part to take proactive measures, we can help prevent wildfires and mitigate our losses.
Debra Costa is senior vice president and vintner practice leader for Heffernan Insurance Brokers in Petaluma. Vine Notes is a recurring column (nbbj.news/vinenotes) by Rabobank, Farella Braun + Martel and Heffernan Insurance Brokers.