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Province pledges funds for water access for drought-stricken areas

Efforts to provide relief stymied by back-to-back elections

Help is on the way for drought-stricken Interlake and Parkland ranchers, but it’s unclear how much — or how helpful — it will be.

“[It] really does nothing for the guys up here,” said Art Jonasson, reeve of the RM of West Interlake.

On September 12, the province announced it would provide funding under Ag Action Manitoba to support water access and management in the areas affected by drought.

“We recognize that many producers are feeling the effects of our dry summer and that they may require additional assistance to secure a safe and reliable water supply for their livestock,” said Minister of Agriculture Ralph Eichler.

More than a dozen rural municipalities in the Interlake and Parkland regions have declared a state of agricultural disaster since August 29. Persistent dry conditions have severely stunted pasture and forage growth and dried up dugouts.

One rancher near Vogar said he had about a sixth of a normal hay crop. Many producers face buying feed in at enormous cost or selling off cattle.

The RMs asked the province to initiate talks with the federal government to provide financial aid under the AgriRecovery framework.

When the Manitoba Co-operator spoke to Eichler prior to the provincial election, he said he would speak to federal Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau the day after the election and ask for clearance to begin the assessment process for AgriRecovery.

At the time, Eichler said he was unable to make any relief announcements because of election blackout rules.

On September 11, one day after the provincial election, the writ for the federal election was issued. Eichler’s office confirmed that Bibeau cancelled the call with Eichler after the federal election was called.

Eichler told the Co-operator that in order to provide relief through AgriRecovery, the program must receive cabinet approval. This will have to wait until after the federal election.

“It’s unfortunate, the timing,” Eichler said.

He said would work to get the ball rolling, and expressed hope he could begin assessments for AgriRecovery before the federal election.

Meanwhile, funds are available through the Managing Livestock Access to Riparian Areas beneficial management practice under Ag Action Manitoba.

The program offers a 50-50 cost share with a cap of $10,000. It would cover costs such as installing water pumps, drilling new or deepening existing wells, constructing or rehabilitating dugouts, and establishing alternative watering systems.

It appears that the province has reopened the program for intake, with a deadline of October 11, 2019. All other beneficial management programs are not receiving applications.

Producers must complete an environmental farm plan to be eligible, but have until November 2020 to submit a statement of completion, according to the province’s website.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Carson Callum, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers. “Any help that can be provided is a good thing.”

Callum said many cattle producers have already spent money on water access, while others have been waiting to do so.

MBP has been pushing for aid for some time, said Callum. He said the province has done what it can but “it does take time.”

Callum said the timing of the elections has been unfortunate, and said he hoped the federal government would not stall the AgriRecovery framework process. He said producers still need help with feed costs.

“Guys are going to sell cows,” Jonasson said. In the RM of West Interlake, cattle are the main economic engine. Jonasson said financial aid will be crucial to keep the area’s economy afloat.

“We’re going to see a shrinking of the cattle herd,” he said. “I can’t see any way around it.”

Producers are also looking for alternative feed sources, Jonasson said. They need more answers on where to find them.

Jonasson said the RMs are putting together a working group to discuss what to do next. He expects it to meet at the end of this month.

About the author

Reporter

Geralyn Wichers grew up on a hobby farm near Anola, Manitoba, where her family raised cattle, pigs and chickens. Geralyn graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in 2019 and was previously a reporter for The Carillon in Steinbach. Geralyn is also a published author of science fiction and fantasy novels.

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