A recent announcement is a watershed moment for a largely producer-led group seeking to reduce flooding and increase agricultural productivity in Manitoba’s Interlake region.
The federal and provincial governments have announced $1 million in Growing Forward 2 funding for a pilot project in the Rural Municipality of Bifrost-Riverton, which aims to improve drainage and address other water-related issues affecting farmers.
Bifrost Agricultural Sustainability Community Service Cooperative will use the money in a number of areas over the next three years.
Eric Fridfinnson heads the organization and said the area is facing a number of problems when it comes to managing surface water.
“The municipality really is kind of the valley, or the drainage system, for some of the high lands to the west, north and a bit to the south, they all drain in here… so there is a fair bit of water that comes from outside the area,” he said. “We have also been, or tend to be, blessed with a fair bit of rainfall as well.”
One thing the municipality hasn’t been blessed with in recent years is infrastructure funding, but Fridfinnson said the pilot project will allow for the rehabilitation of more than 330 kilometres of municipal drains and ditches.
“Over the past several decades — when a lot of water management and planning structures were put in place in many parts of the province — we seemed to miss out on that, so we really seem to have a fair bit of an infrastructure deficit here, which is probably one of the main problems,” he explained.
The pilot project will also examine the affects that various agricultural practices have on excess moisture, as well as which crops are best suited to the area’s high moisture levels.
“For this year we’re looking at a new sunflower variety that is supposed to be resistant to moisture and is quite an early variety too,” Fridfinnson said. “We are also looking at water tolerance between different crops like flax, and also some work on seeding rates and the ability of plants to recover or to deal with excess moisture at different seeding rates.”
How to better mitigate soil erosion and reduce nutrient run-off will be investigated as well.
Fridfinnson said a project manager has been hired and is working with the co-operative and the municipality to plan future actions. Currently he is assessing and surveying existing water-related infrastructure.
The co-operative has been working towards better water management for several years, and said the groundwork for the most recent investment began under the previous provincial government and was signed off on by current Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler.
“We are committed to finding effective solutions to deal with chronic excess moisture, to help reduce the devastating effects on farm families and the rural economy,” said Eichler. “This project supports on-farm competitiveness and profitability and may offer lessons that can be applied in other parts of the province dealing with similar challenges.”
Fridfinnson, who farms near Arborg, said it’s been frustrating to see crops losses year after year because a lack of infrastructure doesn’t allow rainfall to be effectively channelled into or away from agricultural endeavours.
“We’ve seen a lot of money be paid out by crop insurance and by other government programs, when improvements to our infrastructure might make a lot of that unnecessary and actually cost a lot less,” he said. “And I think that has been recognized by both levels of government, we’ve had great support for the program.