Rachel Kroeplien
Rachel Kroeplien

    Editor’s note: This is the first of two articles detailing the experiences the dairy farmers involved on the panel. Look for a story about Marty Hallock in our second April issue.

    MADISON, Wis. – Farms spend many dollars each year for insurance coverage. According to Dave Becker, founder of Dairy Business Consulting Group, the average cost of liability and property insurance for his clients in 2019 was $55 per cow. The hope is to never have to make a claim, but if catastrophe occurs, a farm needs to know they will be covered.
    During a panel facilitated by Becker titled, “Stuff happens ... are you covered?” at the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin Virtual Business Conference March 18-19 in Madison, Jim Kroeplien and his daughter, Rachel, along with Marty Hallock, explained how they survived disaster and provided tips on what to do when the unexpected happens.   
    Nobody expects a plane to crash into their farm, yet that is exactly what happened to the Kroeplien family July 20, 2018. An antique aircraft crashed into one of the farm’s greenhouses used to raise calves. It was only a 13-second flight from takeoff to crashing, and the plane was estimated to be traveling at 110 mph when it touched down.
    The Kroepliens lost 50 calves from the incident, and two employees suffered major injuries. The pilot of the 1959 vintage British aircraft was killed on impact. It was a tragic event that changed everything in a split second.
    “Something like this really turns your world upside down,” Jim said.
    Jim and his wife, Chris, own Fly By Acres in Sheboygan Falls where they milk 550 cows, crop 800 acres and run a custom planting and combining business. Rachel serves as the farm’s human resources and public relations manager.
    The plane hit during calf feeding. One employee was found lying within two feet of the ruptured fuel tanks, right around the corner from where a fire had started. The other employee met the nose of the plane and was within 35 feet of it when it entered the building. Another fuel tank landed within 15 feet of her but neither tank exploded. The male employee spent 27 days in the intensive care unit and was unconscious for nine days.
    “When I first saw him, I thought he was dead,” Jim said. “He was hit with a lot of shrapnel and possibly even a fuel tank. He literally got blown out of his shoes. The girl had massive head injuries, lost her right ear, dislocated her shoulder and also busted a couple fingers.”
    Although the experience was devastating, the Kroepliens knew it could have been worse. Luckily, the crash and its damage were confined to one area of the farm. The plane, which holds 1,200 liters of fuel, crashed in close range of gas lines, chemicals and numerous buildings containing livestock, but those areas were spared.
    The incident required the Kroepliens to use several of their insurance policies, including fuel clean-up, workers’ compensation, replacement value, equipment and loss of income.
    “Our insurance man was great,” Jim said. “He told us, ‘You’re well insured, don’t worry about it. We got you covered.’ We took that to heart. But your insurance adjuster is probably the guy you have to deal with the most, and we did not have as good of words with him as we were hoping. That’s when things started going the other way.”
    The Kroepliens ended up hiring an attorney.
    “That cost us a lot of money,” Jim said. “And once you hire an attorney, you can no longer talk to your insurance adjuster. Everything has to go through your attorney and their attorney which just muddled the water even more.”
    The Kroepliens’ policy includes a hazardous waste endorsement for $50,000.  
    “That’s probably where the whole thing got really ugly really quick,” Jim said. “Two fuel cells ruptured and leaked on the farm causing a fuel spill. This is where we got into an argument with our insurance adjuster. I didn’t think we should have to use our hazardous endorsement policy for this because we weren’t responsible.”  
    Workers’ compensation insurance was used to cover the two employees injured in the crash, one of whom had to be airlifted from the farm. Jim said he was told this portion of his insurance would be increasing to the maximum rate as a result.
    “We got a renewal notice from our insurance company, and our premiums went up $2,500 per month, which we believe is due to workman’s comp,” Jim said. “That adds up to $30,000 per year, and we had nothing to do with this incident.”
    The Kroepliens’ insurance policy also included replacement cost on some of their buildings.
    “We ended up OK on this, but be ready for a fight,” Jim said. “Anything attached to your building is considered part of the building and will not be paid separately unless it is line itemized. The security systems in our greenhouses were not line itemed, so we did not receive anything extra for those. Same with the calf pens.”
    Thirty-three calves died or had to be euthanized the day of the crash. Another 17 calves were shipped within a month due to excess smoke and fuel inhalation. The Kroepliens had lowered cow values on their policy in recent years but not calf values which still carried a value of $500 each. Insurance was only willing to pay $100 per calf.
    For equipment, the Kroepliens have umbrella coverage and rental coverage which was needed for a corn unit that was partially burnt by one of the plane’s fuel tanks.
    “We do have an umbrella policy, and I encourage everyone to have one,” Jim said. “That was probably the least amount of our issues. We also have a rental policy for $25,000.”
    The farm’s loss of income policy covers $250,000. Heifers were sent to a custom raiser following the loss of the calf barn. Due to the fuel spill, setting up calf huts was not an immediate option.
    “We had a $7,000 to $8,000 heifer raising bill each month that we never had before,” Jim said. “Insurance would only pay part of it because they felt we should’ve kept calves here although they never offered us any extra money for huts.”
    Jim stressed the importance of having a crisis plan. Although they never planned for a plane crash specifically, the Kroepliens had planned for things like a tornado or fire, so they knew what they had to do in a crisis situation.   
    “We work with our first responders quite a bit and have a great relationship with them, as well as our sheriff’s department,” Rachel said. “They knew the exact setup of our farm before the accident took place, and we think that really helped.”
    Jim said it is a good idea to update and review insurance and crisis plans regularly.
    “People move, and markets fluctuate quite a bit,” he said. “For example, don’t insure calves for $500 if they’re only worth $100 because you’re not going to get the $500 you’re paying a premium on.”
    The Kroepliens have since lowered a couple items on their policy, including loss of income coverage and values on some animals which decreased premiums by about $1,000 per month.
    When crisis strikes, document everything. Jim said he carried around a notebook the next day and took many notes. Another person took pictures.
    “Make sure everything is on paper because you’re going to forget things,” Jim said. “We have a 5-inch binder and tote of paperwork on the incident which also includes all insurance communications.”
    Rachel also recommended going to the hospital.
    “You start to notice things when your adrenaline slows down,” she said. “We were in the greenhouse surrounded by fumes and intaking a lot of fuel for about an hour. The next day, we had black gunk coming out of our lungs, and a lot of us were really sick. Documenting your injuries helps with insurance.”
    Jim agreed.
    “The family should’ve got checked out by paramedics sooner,” he said. “We were all on medication from inhaling fumes.”