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Short-term aid, long-term solutions needed

The province is assessing whether AgriRecovery can be triggered

Special programs will be needed to help compensate farmers for nearly 3.5 million acres of cropland either unseeded or drowned out by flood waters, Keystone Agricultural Producers said last week.

Manitoba farmers need short-term aid through AgriRecovery to offset an estimated billion dollars in losses caused by flooding and excessive rains and longer-term efforts to mitigate future flooding, including establishment of the Assiniboine Basin Commission, said Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Doug Chorney.

“I don’t think anyone expected it to be as bad as this,” Chorney told KAP delegates attending their general council meeting here July 10.

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severely flooded field in Manitoba
people at a meeting

“There is a case to be made for some type of assistance for the producers affected.”

Frustrated KAP delegates complained bitterly that the Manitoba government had forgotten the west.

“It’s kind of a tough pill to see a state of emergency (declared) once the water gets to Portage and 500 soldiers have been sandbagging,” Foxwarren farmer George Graham said. “I’m glad for the people in Cartier and St. Francois (Xavier) but there was no help for the people in St. Lazare. None.”

The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) says around 950,000 acres of Manitoba farmland were too wet to seed. KAP estimates 2.5 million acres of crops were either destroyed or severely damaged.

Across the province

Flooded and unseeded land near Souris. Photo: Walter Finlay

Flooded and unseeded land near Souris. Photo: Walter Finlay
photo: Walter Finlay

And the damage isn’t restricted to the southwest, which has received up to three times the normal rainfall this season, or along the Assiniboine River swollen by heavy rains in eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba, but across most of Manitoba, Chorney said.

KAP delegates passed a resolution to lobby the Manitoba government for an AgriRecovery program. KAP leaders were pushing for just that July 9 at a meeting with Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostychyn and senior staff.

Although the federal-provincial program is supposed to fill gaps in existing programs, Chorney said changes could prevent payments on unseeded acres because farmers could buy insurance.

  • KAP calls for special assistance in the form of AgriRecovery

In 2011, a $448-million AgriRecovery was announced, with $195 million for Manitoba.

Eligible Manitoba farmers could get:

  • $30 an acre for unseeded and flooded-out acres;
  • Assistance for forage shortfalls;
  • Assistance to move feed to animals and animals to feed;
  • $15 an acre to plant greenfeed;
  • $50 an acre for forage restoration.

The Manitoba government, in co-operation with KAP and the Manitoba Beef Producers is assessing the damage, Dori Gingera-Beauchemin, deputy minister of Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, said during a briefing July 11.

“Once we do the assessment then we need to look at what programs are already in place and look to the gaps,” she said. “And then if there indeed is enough justification, then make the call to the federal government about the possibility of us working with them on AgriRecovery.”

Premier Greg Selinger said the 2014 flood had cost Manitoba $200 million “and rising,” not including losses to farmers. Sixty million dollars for bridge repairs, $40 million for roads and $100 million for expected Disaster Financial Assistance, including $70 million for rural municipalities and individual citizens.

New outlet

Selinger repeated the Manitoba government is committed to building another outlet to lower levels on Lake Manitoba, where water from the Assiniboine River is diverted to prevent flooding east of Portage la Prairie.

Lake Manitoba flooding devastated Arnthor and Jackie Jonasson’s farm near Siglunes on the lake’s eastern shore in 2011 and it’s happening again. The lake is 814 feet above sea level, Jonasson’s native hay, just nicely re-established after drowning in 2011 and 2012, under water.

“We’re going to lose as much feed as we did in 2011,” Arnthor Jonasson said in an interview last week.

Griswold farmer Stan Cochrane’s land along the Assiniboine River downstream from the Shellmouth Dam flooded in 2011 and is flooded again. He didn’t get compensated for artificial flooding in 2011 because the province said it was natural. His resolution at the KAP meeting calling for changes in crop insurance to temper the impact of repeated flooding was tabled for further study.

Chorney said to ensure crop insurance remains actuarially sound, it would be better to address the problem through another program.

Commission

Establishing the Assiniboine Basin Commission is one way to mitigate future flooding, Chorney said. It could co-ordinate wetland preservation and compensate farmers to store water on their land.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t use drainage as a tool,” he added. “It just needs to be done with better planning. We need to look at the whole watershed when we plan drainage works and there has been an absence of planning… not just in Manitoba, but also Saskatchewan…”

Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Larry Maguire sees the Assiniboine Basin Commission as key.

“I will be a strong ally in Ottawa to get this commission up and running,” he said. “Let me be crystal clear — the time is now. To the governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and North Dakota I say come to the table, work hard. We need to establish an Assiniboine Basin Commission and we need your involvement to make it happen.”

Souris farmer Walter Finlay is just one of the thousands of farmers with waterlogged fields. His farm has had 390 mm of rail since April 23 — more than double the normal amount.

Finlay planted just 850 of his 2,900 acres this spring and of that just 300 acres are normal. Finlay reckons his gross revenue will plunge by $500,000.

Following a tour to the Deloraine area July 12 Chorney said he was shocked by the devastation.

“Many have only 20 per cent of their land seeded and those fields are poor,” Chorney said. “Hope is slipping away for many.”

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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