Art Jonasson is a farmer by long distance this year, thanks to unprecedented spring flooding on Lake Manitoba.
The Vogar-area farmer’s cattle are scattered across the province because of an emergency evacuation of livestock in the region ahead of water spreading inland from the swollen lake.
He has no idea when they’ll be able to come home.
“We may have to make arrangements for pasture for two years,” Jonasson said from his ranch on the eastern edge of Lake Manitoba while rushing to haul cattle out along a road nearly cut off by rising water.
Jonasson was fortunate to find temporary homes for his animals, thanks to a Manitoba Beef Producers online listing of pastures available for rent.
In an overwhelming response to the need, landowners throughout the province have offered temporary grazing space for livestock which have to be relocated from the flood zone.
Jonasson recently moved 150 cow-calf pairs to a pasture near Gladstone. About 130 heifers are in a feedlot down the road from his farm waiting to go to Pipestone in western Manitoba when a pasture there becomes ready for them. Another 30 cows were slated last week to go to Sprague in the southeast region as soon as they finish calving.
Other producers in the region also appear to be finding emergency pasture for their cattle. Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives reported last week only about a dozen farmers had asked for assistance in either relocating animals or finding feed for them.
But the number of livestock potentially affected by flooding is significant.
MAFRI calculates the affected area around Lake Mani toba contains 70,000 farm animals. Jonasson estimates there are over 6,000 cattle in his area alone.
Not all of them require evacuation, said Gerald Huebner, a MAFRI acting assistant deputy minister.
“The number of animals that need to be moved is dramatically less than that,” Huebner said.
Major Jay Fox, Manitoba Beef Producers president, said government and the industry are doing a good job of locating alternate grazing space for cattle and finding vehicles to transport them there.
MAFRI and MBP are cooperating on an online hay listing service, as well as inventories for boarding cattle and renting pasture land. Huebner said the list has available feed for 14,000 cow-calf pairs over 120 days.
But respite pasture is only a short-term solution. The real problem is in bringing cattle home after the water goes down, said Fox.
Water levels on Lake Manitoba are expected to peak after mid-June and subside slowly. Fox said pastures could continue submerged until later this year. In some cases, forage and hay land may be destroyed.
“These guys don’t know how they’re going to feed those cattle when they get back, either this year or the next three,” said Fox.
“I don’t know what the options are. I really don’t. The only option is to downsize their herds or get out of the business.”
Cattle producers say the province has a duty to compensate ranchers for lost production because flooding on Lake Manitoba is partly the result of government policy to divert flood water from the Assiniboine River into the lake’s south basin.
“There has to be some kind of compensation package made available to these guys and some kind of guarantee that it will be there,” said Jonasson.
Jonasson said he is already $10,000 out of pocket for boarding his cattle on other people’s land.
Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton earlier this month promised “comprehensive” compensat ion to crop farmers and livestock producers affected by flooding along the Assiniboine this spring.
Jonasson said Lake Manitoba farmers feel they are forgotten flood victims because public attention is centred mainly on the Assiniboine Diversion and resulting property damage.
When Lake Manitoba does get mentioned, it’s usually about the risk to cottagers along the shore, he said.
“It would go a long way to ease some of the concerns of these cattle producers along the lake if Premier (Greg) Selinger would just come out and say something,” said Jonasson.
“It doesn’t have to be an all-out promise, just an acknowledgement that we exist. He doesn’t even talk about us. He just talks about the cottages.” [email protected]
“Idon’tknowwhat theoptionsare.I reallydon’t.”
– MAJOR JAY FOX, MBP