“A disaster is a disaster.”
– LARRY MAGUIRE, MLA
Last year, flooded Interlake farmers who couldn’t harvest hay complained they were on an unequal footing with drought-stricken producers in southwestern Manitoba.
Now cattle producers in the southwest region say they should get the same government assistance as their Interlake colleagues received last month because they’re also short of feed.
Claude Martin, who farms west of Hartney, said he had to buy 300 bales of hay last fall to feed his 120 beef cows because of a drought, now in its second year. The year before, he spent $10,000 bringing in hay.
Many farmers are forced to haul water long distances because their dugouts are dry and wells are low, said Martin, a councillor with the Rural Municipality of Cameron.
Cameron and its neighbouring municipality Edward recently passed identical resolutions demanding their region receive “assistance equivalent to their Interlake counterparts.”
The resolutions were discussed at a March 18 Association of Manitoba Municipalities district meeting of reeves and mayors.
At issue are two special programs announced March 5 to aid Interlake and Westlake cattle producers suffering from feed shortages caused by extensive flooding last summer.
The Manitoba Livestock Feed Assistance Program pays $70 per breeding animal to help cover feed costs. The Manitoba Forage Restoration Program contributes up to $40 an acre for re-establishing forage crops and pastures damaged by the flood.
Both are funded through AgriRecovery, a risk management component of the federal-provincial Growing Forward agriculture policy framework. AgriRecovery provides targeted assistance to farmers affected by natural disasters.
Producers in the southwest argue they should also qualify for AgriRecovery because the drought in their region is a disaster, too.
Larry Maguire, their local Conservative MLA, agrees.
“It’s like saying one disaster is not as important as the other disaster,” said Maguire, whose constituency of Arthur-Virden takes in nearly all the affected municipalities. “A disaster is a disaster. It doesn’t matter which part of the province you’re in.”
Maguire called the omission “blatant discrimination against the farmers of southwest Manitoba – the cattle and livestock producers of the region.”
But Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives Minister Rosann Wowchuk said AgriRecovery is intended for specific conditions, such as those applying to the Interlake.
“You’re looking at a very unique situation. AgriRecovery is there to address disasters and certainly the flooding in the Interlake was a very unique situation,” Wowchuk said.
“We review each situation and we made a determination that it was the Interlake that qualified for AgriRecovery and that the situation in the southwest did not.”
Wowchuk said her department might take another look at the southwest if Merv Tweed, the local Conservative MP, persuades federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz to request it. “If the federal minister said he was interested, then our officials would review the situation.”
But Tweed, contacted at his House of Commons office in Ottawa, said the rules clearly state provinces must approach Ottawa for AgriRecovery assistance, not the other way around.
Interlake producers qualify for one-year income tax deferrals on proceeds from livestock sales, which was also part of the March 5 announcement.
Previously, only drought-affected producers qualified for deferrals. But the rules were changed to include flooded farmers, too.
Maguire noted Ottawa granted the deferrals to producers in the southwest on March 3, two days before Interlake producers got theirs.
He wondered why southwestern producers couldn’t qualify for emergency aid as a result, since tax deferrals are a clear recognition of a disaster. [email protected]