Curtis McRae had completely finished seeding by mid-May, two weeks ahead of normal. Then the rain came. When it finally stopped, nearly two-thirds of McRae’s 4,000 acres lay under water.
McRae, who farms near Clandeboye, estimates 60 per cent of his canola crop is gone. So is 20 per cent of his wheat. He expects a gross revenue drop of $400,000 this year.
Chuck Fossay is marginally better off. He and his brothers saw roughly a quarter of their 3,800 acres near Starbuck submerged by unseasonably heavy rains which swept across Western Canada this spring. The Canadian Wheat Board estimates up to 12 million acres – a fifth of all Prairie cropland – wasn’t even seeded.
Both McRae and Fossay will qualify for $30 an acre in financial aid announced by Ottawa and the provinces last week. The big difference between the two producers is that Fossay has crop insurance and McRae doesn’t.
“If you don’t have any crop insurance at all, the $30 is just a drop in the bucket,” said Fossay. “There won’t be anything left for mortgage payments, let me tell you that.”
Even with insurance as a fallback, many Manitoba growers, who were looking at a crop off to its best start in years, face the prospect of a bleak winter.
“Best-case scenario for a lot of farmers, it’s going to be a break-even year,” Fossay predicted.
“They have nothing there for their mortgage payments, they have nothing there for machinery payments, they have nothing
“It may cover my fuel bill.”
– Curtis McRae
for living costs, they have nothing for getting the land ready for next year.
“They will have to go out and most likely borrow money.”
Canada’s agriculture ministers tried to soften the blow for flooded Prairie farmers with a $450-million relief package.
Saskatchewan will qualify for $360 million because it is the most heavily flooded province, with a third of its cropland not expected to produce this year, according to its agriculture minister, Bob Bjornerud.
Manitoba will receive roughly $62 million. The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. estimates between 1.5 million and two million acres of cropland in the province are affected by excessive moisture. About 700,000 acres went unseeded this year.
The money, funded through the federal-provincial cost-shared AgriRecovery disaster relief program, aims at helping farmers “take immediate measures to protect, rehabilitate and manage affected cropland, helping them restore the land for next year’s crop,” federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said during a July 8 news conference.
For most farmers, that’ll involve spraying fields to control weeds, planting cover crops to use up excessive soil moisture and smoothing out rutted fields.
Federal officials said farmers are not actually required to do these things but most probably will as a matter of good management.
The money, while welcome, will probably go quickly: one or more passes with a sprayer at $8 to $10 an acre, seed for green cover or winter wheat, plus the cost of tillage.
“It may cover my fuel bill,” McRae said.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers said 85 per cent of the province’s cropped acres are covered by crop insurance. But sometimes even that is not enough to compensate for a disaster, he said.
“We think that it’s very appropriate for ministers to announce a top-up through AgriRecovery,” said Struthers.
MASC contracts automatically include excessive moisture insurance (EMI) coverage of $50/ac. for wet fields that cannot be seeded. Farmers have the option of buying additional EMI up to $65/ac.
The $30/ac. aid will apply to both seeded and unseeded cropland. MASC will administer payments.
Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers’ president, said application forms should be out soon. Details such as deductibles and minimum coverage levels were still being worked on last week.
Not all flooded land will qualify for the full $30/ac. payment because there may still be some crop growing on it, he said, but added the government appears flexible on coverage.
“The province certainly left us with the impression that they’re prepared to be reasonably workable on this.” [email protected]