Drowned-out Manitoba cattle producers are feeling hung out to dry after last week’s $448-million excess moisture aid announcement by Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz.
The federal government is so far refusing to cost share greenfeed or forage restoration, as was anticipated when the provincial government announced $194 million in aid for Manitoba farmers June 30.
The Manitoba announcement also designated support to feedlot operators, dairy farmers, and potato and horticultural operations and assistance for nurseries, vegetable and fruit producers, and leafcutter bee producers for lost perishable inventory, none of which the federal government is contributing towards under its excess moisture program.
It all adds up to a $38.5-million shortfall, with Manitoba cattle producers taking the biggest hit, Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers said in an interview Aug. 5.
“The area I’m most concerned about is on the cattle side,” Struthers said. “If you look where the federal government decided not to participate about 83 per cent of that money (almost $32 million) is on the support for cattle side of the announcement.”
Manitoba Beef Producers’ president Major Jay Fox is also concerned.
“We are disappointed and we feel it’s incomplete,” Fox said last week in an interview. “The beef industry deserves better treatment than this.
“There is work yet to be done by Minister Struthers and Minister Ritz so the cattle industry is protected and properly compensated for the damages that have been done.”
Aug. 4 federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz announced $448 million for a federal- provincial excess moisture aid program under AgriRecovery for farmers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta hard hit by one of the wettest springs ever. An estimated three million acres in Manitoba didn’t get seeded because they were too wet.
The June 30 announcement by the Manitoba government included $15 an acre to encourage grain farmers to grow greenfeed, which in turn could be sold to nearby cattle producers short of winter feed due to flooded pastures and hay land.
Struthers also announced $50 an acre to restore and reseed tame hay and forage seed acres damaged by flooding.
That was predicated on the traditional 60-40 cost sharing of such programs by the federal and provincial governments.
If Ottawa doesn’t change its mind, Manitoba farmers will only get 40 per cent of what Manitoba announced – $6 per acre for greenfeed and $20 an acre for forage restoration.
Struthers also announced infrastructure rehabilitation for feedlots, dairy farmers, and potato and horticultural operations and assistance for nurseries, vegetable and fruit producers, and leafcutter bee producers for lost perishable inventory.
Ottawa’s announcement doesn’t include assistance in those areas either.
Ottawa has agreed to cost share 60 per cent of a $30-an-acre payment on land too wet to seed or land where crops drowned. However, there will be a five per cent deductible on Ottawa’s share, which reduces the total payment to $29.10 an acre.
Struthers said he understands the rationale for a deductible. Manitoba had one on its share of the $30-an-acre excess moisture payment last year. It was dropped this year because the wet conditions were unprecedented.
But he said the province can’t afford to fill the gap left by the federal government.
“I don’t think a province like Manitoba can be expected to backfill for the federal government. Having said that we’ve been up front with the feds and they’ve been up front with us.”
Fox said the greenfeed program was well thought out as a means of encouraging grain farmers to help livestock producers round up enough feed for the winter.
He said he’s also disappointed about the lack of support for feedlots.
“In order to have a strong cow-calf sector you need a strong feedlot industry,” he said. “That means in these disaster situations both sectors need to be included.”
When Struthers announced aid June 30, he expected Ottawa would cost share it as it traditionally has. The announcement was made just before election rules preventing government funding announcements in advance of this fall’s provincial election came into force. But Struthers said the main reason for an early announcement was to help farmers make good decisions.
Ottawa is considering making up some of the shortfall by taking funds from the Growing Forward program, according to Struthers.
“But I’m just not into taking money from one farm to give to another,” he said.
In an email Ritz said the excess moisture program comes in addition to support through AgriInsurance, AgriStability, AgriInvest, tax deferrals and the advance payment program.
“As you know, federal programs are designed to treat all provinces and producers equally and we will continue to work closely with the provinces to determine whether further assistance is required,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate that Minister Struthers is putting election rhetoric above working with us in the best interests of his producers and processors.” [email protected]