“We’re not arguing about whether or not (there’s a problem) it’s how to deal with it.”
– IAN WISHART
It seems no one is quibbling with the scale of the disaster of soaked, unseeded fields and drowned crops in Western Canada this year.
The ongoing debate right now is how best to respond.
Ian Wishart, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers and Jay Fox, president of the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association met with Manitoba’s agriculture minister separately last week. Both said Stan Struthers gave them a fair hearing.
“He was interested in our ideas and hopefully he will implement them as soon as possible,” said Fox.
Fox wants Struthers to immediately announce an extended deadline for seeding cereal crops. But Wishart, president of the Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), expects aid announcements won’t come until officials have a better handle on the damage caused by record rains this spring.
“It’s a process,” Wishart said, nothing will be “vaguely announced” until after the upcoming federal and provincial ministers’ meeting.
Meanwhi le, the federal Liberal opposition is demanding Ottawa act.
“I think the key thing is when the ag ministers meet they’ve got to send a very clear signal to farmers that they get it and they will be responsive and generous coming out of this situation,” Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said last week after touring waterlogged fields north of Regina.
SMALL CROP, SHORT PRICES
He said 85 per cent of Prairie farmland is suffering from too much rain. Twenty-four per cent of Saskatchewan’s cropland didn’t get seeded and at least that many acres drowned or are damaged.
“So you’re looking at less than half a crop in Saskatchewan at a price that was less than half of what it was a year ago,” Goodale said.
The MCPA, fearing a shortage of feed grains, wants Struthers to extend the June 20 seeding deadline to July 15 to encourage farmers to plant.
The crop insurance deadline for seeding greenfeed, such as cereals, millet and sorghum, that is cut for cattle feed instead of harvesting for grain, is July 15. Cattle producers want farmers to grow greenfeed too, Fox said, but feedlot operators need grain. If barley is short and the price is high, calves prices will drop, he said.
Eighty-four per cent of crop insurance clients have the option to grow greenfeed and be covered if they seed before July 15, a crop insurance official said. (Farmers must select which crops they want coverage for by March 31.)
Fox said Struthers is cautious about extending the deadline, but added it’s warranted given the magnitude of the disaster.
KAP is not calling for a deadline extension given the risk of frost, Wishart said. “You have to be somewhat realistic about what you’re asking for,” he said.
A conservation cover crop program, which could also provide cattle producers with greenfeed, plus some top-up coverage based on crop insurance but delivered through AgriRecovery are among the ideas KAP gave Struthers.
Farmers need at least $30 an acre for a cover crop program, plus additional money to encourage them to seed nitrogen-fixing crops with higher seed costs.
Wishart said KAP wants to see support targeted to need.
As of June 30, the deadline for farmers to submit their seeded acreage reports to crop insurance, about 70 per cent had been processed, an official said. Based on those reports more than 500,000 acres of Manitoba farmland was unseeded.
KAP has cautioned against topping up payouts under excess moisture insurance because it would discourage farmers from trying to plant in wet conditions in the future.
Wishart said he’s encouraged Struthers and his counterparts recognize the problem farmers face.
“We’re not arguing about whether or not (there’s a problem) it’s how to deal with it,” he said,
Last week Liberal Senator Bob Peterson raised the issue in the Senate.
Marjory LeBreton, the government’s Senate leader, said the government needs to understand the extent of the damage.
“I do not think one can find an example, ever, where a Conservative government has not risen to a challenge in aid of our farmers,” she said. [email protected]