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Straw-deficient Interlake suggests permanent transport program

A “win-win” for grain farmers and ranchers … and that ain’t hay

Interlake farmers chronically short of straw for their cattle are proposing a plan to tap the straw-rich Red River Valley. Producers want a government program to subsidize the cost of hauling straw from where it’s in surplus to where it’s needed.

This would provide a new market for a resource which too often goes up in smoke at harvest time, a Manitoba Cattle Producers Association district meeting heard last week.

The Oct. 7 meeting passed a resolution calling for the measure. A producer meeting in Ashern the night before adopted a similar resolution. Both will go before the MCPA’s annual meeting in Brandon in December.

A temporary provincial program currently subsidizes transport costs for hauling straw and hay to both flooded and drought-affected regions which are short of forage this year. The resolutions envision a permanent program for straw, MCPA director Joe Bouchard said.

Bouchard called the idea a “win-win” for both grain farmers and cattle producers.

“We’re not asking for a subsidy on the straw. We’re just asking for some assistance on the freight to make this a more attractive deal and to make this feasible.”

Bouchard said it would be up to buyers and sellers to develop their own arrangements for straw deliveries. But they’d need financial assistance because straw is so cheap and trucking costs are so high.

“With the freight, it doesn’t make economic sense. But if there’s some sort of program in place to help with the freight, a lot of guys will be using it and building relationships with these grain producers.”

Bouchard said the closure of the Elie strawboard plant several years ago has left grain farmers in the Red River Valley with limited options for their straw. If they can’t sell it and there’s too much to work into the soil, the only remaining alternative is to burn it and risk smoke pollution, he said.

Meanwhile, Interlake ranchers without cropland have to haul in straw or use low-quality hay instead.

“If there was a market for (the straw), grain guys would gladly get rid of it and cattle producers could use it in their rations or for bedding and stuff,” Bouchard said.

The province currently pays 20 cents a tonne per mile to help deliver straw. Bouchard said a permanent program would probably have to pay something similar. [email protected]

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