MELVILLE, Sask. _ Bad weather last year means crop insurance premiums and coverage levels are going up in Saskatchewan this year.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart said premiums will average $8.51 an acre up 67 cents from last year’s average. Stewart says the 8.5 per cent premium increase is needed to cover crops such as lentils and canola.

“Those higher premiums reflect more revenue, but they represent higher risk and liability of the crop insurance corporation because of the higher value of the basket of crops that are being seeded on average across the province,” Stewart said Thursday at the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp.’s head office in Melville.

Stewart said coverage levels will increase by $1 to $217 an acre.

The minister also announced that the province will pay out an estimated $650 million in crop insurance claims from 2016 because storms and excess moisture delayed harvest.

About 1.3 million acres of crop is still on the fields and it’s got to come off, Stewart said.

“It’s always a serious issue when you have a crop to harvest before you can get in the field to seed. That’s a problem,” he said.

“We know that our producers can get a lot of work done in a short time these days and we don’t always expect miracles, but we quite regularly see them. We’re mindful of the problem that that is for producers who are affected. We’ll be there whatever the end result is in crop insurance.”

Crop insurance officials could not break down how much of each specific crop remains unharvested. They said the problem is spread across the province.

Harvey Malanowich, a farmer in the Canora area and a director with the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said he still has canola to bring in.

“The challenge is going to be in the quality of what’s out there,” said Malanowich. “Unharvested acres, they’ll be done in a short time. We have equipment now that can take it off and manpower can do it also.”

The $650-million payout is not a record loss. That came in 2002 when crop insurance paid out just over $1.2 billion because of a drought.

However, the increased crop insurance claims are being cited for the rising provincial deficit. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said earlier this month that crop insurance claims are up $250 million from what was forecast and the deficit is up to about $1.2 billion.

Despite the claims, Statistics Canada reported in December that farmers in Saskatchewan had higher production for most crops.

The agency said canola production in Saskatchewan was up 2.3 per cent from 2015 to a record high 9.7 million tonnes in 2016 and growers reported producing 2.7 million tonnes of lentils in 2016.

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