The Manitoba government promotes water retention on farmland, yet has policies that seem to discourage innovative and economic ways to do it, Deloraine farmer Kelsey Sunaert said during the Keystone Agricultural Producers’ 35th annual meeting in Winnipeg Feb. 5.
Farmers like him, who want to consolidate water bodies on their own land and keep it there to use to irrigate crops, shouldn’t have to pay $12,000 an acre to compensate the province for the loss of wetlands, he said.
To that end KAP delegates voted to lobby the Manitoba government to remove compensation requirements when consolidating Class 3 to 5 wetlands when the water is entirely stored on the same farm to be used for irrigation.
“Put that water in a place where it can be used and not be just a nuisance,” said Sunaert during a debate on the resolution.
In 2012 a third of his farm’s acres drowned from excess moisture in 2011, he said. Sunaert purchased irrigation equipment and started irrigating from his wetlands.
“We’ve seen significant yield benefits and managed some of this excess water,” he said. “At the end of this year, 2018, we managed to get the water back down to historical levels, or at least close. We went from a 32 per cent loss down to three or four per cent.”
Earlier in the meeting Sunaert told Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler he was using excess water to irrigate crops, but couldn’t get a licence from the province to consolidate Class 3 and 4 drains, which are classified as temporary wetlands prone to drying up in summer.
“I think you’re exactly on the right path that I would like to see,” Eichler said in reply. “It’s not clear about retention of water. I certainly encourage any producer who is draining water off to have a plan to capture that water and reuse it in a timely manner. I think that’s the modernization that we need to look at. I certainly encourage it. Those regulations are being drafted through consultation with your organization and others on what those regulations will look like. Certainly we knew the process was too long and tile drainage was one of those. When we first announced Roquette was coming we knew peas didn’t like water.”
Eichler added the government is trying to expedite drainage projects.
“Water is something we always have to worry about managing,” he said. “And certainly we are more than happy to try and proceed with that and we are going to proceed with it.”
Sunaert said the government talks about working with farmers, yet it wants to charge him $12,000 per acre of consolidated wetland.
“(It’s) on my own land and I’m not crossing any roads and I am using it for a beneficial purpose that helps the economy,” he said. “I’m just wondering if there is any compromise that you can foresee?
Eichler replied he’s not the minister of sustainable development, who oversees drainage, but added he would relay Sunaert’s concerns.
“We’ll continue on that dialogue,” Eichler said.