You know there’s something very wrong when farmers put up fences to keep cattle out of pastures rather than in them.
But that’s what Lynn and Larry Henry did several weeks ago on their farm near Eddystone.
The Henrys were forced to fence off seven quarter sections because overland flooding was so serious their cattle were getting foot rot from standing in water.
They couldn’t even get to two other quarters because the water was so deep.
Most of the Henrys’ land is Crown land leased from the province for grazing. But there’s little grazing this year. The same is true for the rest of the Westlake region in the heart of Manitoba’s cow-calf country.
“There’s a lot of desperation,” Lynn said after a July 27 public meeting in Eddystone hosted by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives to discuss the excess moisture crisis.
About 100 people filled the local
community hall to hear MAFRI staff talk about flooded forages, animal health issues and ways of coping with the stress of three straight years of flooding in the region.
“Water, water, water,” was Lynn’s way of describing the landscape in Westlake, whose residents often feel overshadowed by their larger neighbour, the Interlake, where flooding from excessive summer rains is also severe.
An informal survey taken by Lynn at the meeting showed producers often had 3,000 or more acres of land under water.
Flooded basements, sewer backup, hydro outages and road washouts were also frequent complaints.
One of the biggest irritants for cattle producers is that they’re paying to lease grazing land they can’t use because of flooding, Lynn said.
Lynn and Larry are spending over $3,000 on Crown land leases this year and theirs is not a big farm.
She said people at the meeting told her they had voiced concerns to a Crown land agent who only suggested they not take out leases next year.
Lynn and others think lease payments should be waived this year.
Lynn plans to ask the government to void payments for flooded Crown land. She says she’ll encourage others to do the same.
“That is what people would like to see.”
A provincial spokesperson said cancelling fees could result in retaliation by Manitoba’s trading partners.
“Waiving these fees risks trade action against Manitoba for providing a direct subsidy to a specific sector,” she said. “We do not want Manitoba’s producers to suffer as a result of countervail.”
The spokesperson said Manitoba’s agricultural Crown land lease rates are lower than both Saskatchewan’s and Alberta’s. Lease fees in Manitoba are set through a triennial survey of private rental prices and consultations with industry stakeholders.
The Manitoba Cattle Producers Association is also hesitant about requesting Crown land lease waivers.
It would give lessees an unfair advantage over producers who own land instead of renting it from the Crown, said Major Jay Fox, MCPA president.
“If they have deeded land and it’s completely washed out, there’s no way they’re going to get their money back on that land,” said Fox, whose own land in the region is under water.
“If you’re going to ask for a program, it’s better to make it a program that’s more of a broad stroke, so that guys who have deeded land and have been flooded out get the same benefit as anybody with Crown land.”
MCPA is calling for a provincial flood relief program for cattle producers. The association wants unspecified per-head payments for breeding and feeder stock and per-acre payments to restore damaged forage land.
So far the province is taking a wait-and-see approach, saying it continues to monitor the situation.
That’s no help to the Henrys, who say they need financial relief now.
“We’ve done it the first year. We’ve done it the second year. But three years is just too much,” Lynn [email protected]
– Lynn Henry