Federal officials remain tight lipped about an emergency aid package for flooded Manitoba cattle producers as winter closes in on an industry already short of feed.
“We’re working just as hard and quickly as we can,” was all Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz would say during a Nov. 19 stopover in Winnipeg as the first snowstorm of the season raged outside.
Ritz’s officials said two months ago a holdup in assessing feed losses caused by summer flooding was the reason for the delay.
Last week it appeared the assessments were still unfinished and a decision on emergency funding was still pending.
“Federal and provincial officials are working very closely to complete the necessary assessment on the forage and feed situation in Manitoba,” a federal official said in an email to the Co-operator.
“Should the assessment conclude the need for additional assistance outside of existing programs, officials will work to put a federal-provincial disaster program in place as quickly as possible.”
Ritz said the assessments “are nearing completion as we speak,” adding a late harvest has slowed efforts to calculate how much feed was lost.
He said money will flow through AgriRecovery, the federal- provincial disaster assistance program. Ottawa pays 60 per cent of the cost and provinces pay the remaining 40 per cent.
Flooded Prairie grain farmers received $450 million from AgriRecovery in July, based on $30 an acre. But there was no similar aid for cattle producers.
Manitoba Beef Producers has been lobbying since August for per-head payments and financial assistance to help with feed shortages.
MBP representatives met with federal and provincial officials Nov. 17 to discuss the matter but would not comment afterwards.
“We agreed to keep everything confidential in these early moments of trying to get this thing resolved,” said Major Jay Fox, MBP president.
Earlier this month, Saskatchewan announced a provincial program for its own livestock and forage producers affected by excess moisture.
Besides providing feed freight assistance, the program pays producers $30 an acre to restore pasture land damaged by heavy rains.
MBP expressed exasperation that Saskatchewan producers were getting aid while Manitoba producers were not.
“We need to get moving,” said general manager Sheila Mowat. “If the aid needed doesn’t start soon, there won’t be time left for some to try and stabilize and turn things around.”
The day after Saskatchewan announced its program, Ritz and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Stan Struthers met on the phone to speed up the program for this province, a spokesperson for Struthers said.
“They’re both pushing their officials to expedite the process,” said the spokesperson.
MAFRI officials say Manitoba’s 40 per cent share was approved long ago and the province is waiting for Ottawa’s portion.
Earlier, Cliff Graydon, PC agriculture critic, called for Manitoba to go it alone in announcing aid because the situation is so urgent.
“If the minister (Struthers) is serious about delivering aid to livestock producers, he will immediately announce the programs, flow the aid and finalize the details with the federal government later,” Graydon wrote in a Sept. 22 letter to rural newspapers.
However, MBP and the province say waiting for a joint announcement is the best approach.
“Everybody thinks that it’s a good thing for us to wait so that everybody’s got their ducks in a row and it’ll be a better package if we do it jointly with the feds,” said Struthers’s spokesperson. [email protected]
– GERRY RITZ