Farmers in the Lac-Saint-Jean region whose crops were wiped out in a hailstorm last month are calling on Quebec to provide them with similar compensation to that which was offered to spring flooding victims.

The July 21 storm knocked out power and telephone lines and uprooted trees, pounding a 200-square-kilometre swath of land east of the lake with hail the size of golf balls.

Premier Philippe Couillard will be in the region today to survey the damage and meet with farmers whose crops were ruined — including William Van Tassel, a farmer in Hébertville and vice-president of the Quebec Federation of Grain Growers.

William Van Tassel

William Van Tassel, a farmer in Hébertville and vice-president of the Quebec Federation of Grain Growers, estimates he lost $100,000 in the July 21 hailstorm. (submitted by William Van Tassel)

"The work you did is lost," said Van Tassel, whose fields of soybeans, corn, canola, wheat and barley were all at least partially flattened by hailstones.

"That's the first thing you feel. Then you have to think about the future."

About 50 farmers in Hébertville and the nearby towns of Saint-Gédéon, Saint-Bruno and Hébertville-Station are coping with tens of millions of dollars of crop damage.

Van Tassel estimates crop damage on his farm about 60 kilometres west of Saguenay at close to $100,000.

Ninety per cent of the farmers affected have coverage through the provincial crop insurance program, La Financière agricole du Québec, according to the insurer. A crown corporation, it is Quebec's sole insurance provider for farmers.


Residents in Saint-Gédéon, in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, found themselves up to their ankles in hail after the July 21 storm. (Marie-Ève Tremblay/Radio-Canada)

However, many, including Van Tassel, say problems with what insurance covers and how losses are calculated could leave them devastated for a second time.

He bought $200,000 in coverage — the maximum available to him — but he said his crops were worth a total of $500,000, and he does not expect to see a penny of that.

"It's big losses. You can have crop insurance, but it's a huge loss anyway," he said.

Crop insurance 'not for catastrophes'

Mario Théberge, the regional president of Quebec's union of agricultural producers (UPA) in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, said he'd talked to one farmer who was "suffocating" from the loss of his crops.

'What we saw here is a catastrophe that you might see once in your life.' - UPA regional president Mario Théberge

"He's losing as much as $200,000 for his soy crop alone."

He said the insurance program has a lot of shortcomings. It was designed to provide basic coverage, not a total loss of crops.

"It's not a program for catastrophes," Théberge said. "What we saw here is a catastrophe that you might see once in your life."

The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean office of La Financière agricole said it doesn't yet know the value of damage that won't be covered by the government program.

Regional director Yves LeFebvre said a farmer's level of protection depends on the type of insurance chosen, since not everyone buys the highest level of coverage offered.

Théberge said when he meets Couillard, he will urge the premier to do more than offer more comprehensive insurance.

He said farmers in a precarious situation need emergency funds — and they can't wait six months for them.

"Farmers don't see the end of the tunnel," he said. "It's a question of survival."

With files from Radio-Canada's Mélissa Savoie-Soulières