What’s the effect of three million unseeded acres of farmland on the non-farming economy? Ask the citizens of Souris.
Local businesses depend “big time” on agriculture and the effects of a poor crop will be felt throughout the community, said Garry Noto, who heads the Souris and Glenwood Chamber of Commerce.
The Souris district is one of the worst hit areas for flooding in Manitoba this year, following excessive rains coming on top of heavy runoff after a late spring melt. Vast expanses of farmland are under water. Some farmers have managed to seed only a few acres. Others haven’t even turned a wheel.
Souris is also battling high water from a rising river flowing through town which has been swollen by heavy rains upstream and won’t peak until July.
Twenty-four houses have already been evacuated so far and more are expected. Some owners aren’t sure they will ever be able to return to their homes, Noto said.
Tourism, also a mainstay of the town’s economy, will also take a big hit. The famous swinging bridge, a major attraction, is damaged and can’t be repaired until later this year after the water goes down.
Noto said the local campground tried to open for the season but was forced to shut down again, resulting in a loss of weekend business for local retailers, many of whom won’t be able to hire summer students this year.
Some of the estimated 15,000 tourists who visit Souris each summer drop in at the antique shop which Noto, a retired teacher, operates just outside town. He expects the flood will “keep some away.”
Noto jokingly suggests the chamber should run an advertising campaign with the slogan: “Come to Souris. We’re still open.”
Seriously, he worries about the long-term effect of flooding on local establishments.
“There are a couple of businesses in town that are kind of marginal. This may put them under.”
Similar fears are expressed in rural communities also experiencing overland flooding and unseeded farmland in nearly every corner of Manitoba.
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives believes farmers could lose nearly a billion dollars in crop sales this year because of fields that cannot be planted. Crop insurance deadlines passed June 20 with as much as three million acres – over a quarter of the province’s cropland – still unseeded. (See
related story page 7)
A recent survey by the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce shows communities throughout the province are already feeling the effects, said president Graham Starmer.
Starmer read from a series of reports from member chambers of commerce describing the flooding impacts.
The Rural Municipality of Brokenhead in eastern Manitoba reports a sharp decrease in the number of building permits issued this year and the lack of construction “affects the financial viability of the municipality.”
The Interlake region is experiencing its fifth year of excessive rainfall in the last seven years. “The results of the lack of seeding have a ripple effect for the farmer and for business,” from car dealerships and furniture outlets to clothing stores and local restaurants, says the Arborg chamber.
Around Deloraine in southwestern Manitoba, “agri-business has stalled and the thriving oil industry has also stalled because of a lack of access” to wells and drilling sites, according to the local chamber. Farm suppliers may soon have to lay off workers. The only booming business is tire sales because of washed-out roads and potholes.
At Rossburn near Riding Mountain National Park, where farming and tourism are the two main sources of income, “campgrounds and golf courses are not up and running,” cabin construction has ground to a halt and fishermen are not coming to the lakes.
The economic effect of agricultural flooding on the province’s economy will be felt all the way to Portage and Main, said Starmer.
“If you look at the loss of a billion dollars, that is going to have a ripple effect down the road on the people within Winnipeg,” he warned.
MAFRI Minister Stan Struthers agreed business losses will extend beyond rural Manitoba.
“A big chunk of Winnipeg’s economy relies on farmers and rural folks spending dollars in our capital city. I think it will have a negative impact,” Struthers said. [email protected]
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– GRAHAM STARMER, MANITOBA CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE