Prairie farmers pray for rain as drought and grasshoppers ravage crops and pastures
CALGARY – Canadian farmers are calling for emergency disaster relief as drought devastates crops and pastures in the Prairie provinces and beyond.
Scorching temperatures and little to no precipitation left crops in poor condition across large swathes of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
In some parts of the country, grasshoppers infested fields. Several municipalities have declared agricultural disaster states and pastoralists say they are running out of hay to feed their cattle.
At his ranch near Moose Jaw, Sask., Kelcy Elford said conditions were the driest he had seen in more than 20 years.
Much of the crop he planted for pasture did not germinate at all and the parched soil cracks.
Waterholes on his land are drying up or covered in algae, and some have become so alkaline that they are in fact toxic to livestock.
“When you look at some pastures, they take on a brown, almost golden color. Because the grass that grew here cooked after it grew, ”said Elford, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association. “In areas where it’s bad enough, it almost looks gray. There’s just no humidity there.”
Drought conditions are also causing problems in western Ontario and British Columbia, where active forest fires are having a significant impact on agricultural producers.
Brady Stadnicki, spokesperson for the national lobby group Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, said the situation was so widespread there were concerns that it could lead to a long-term reduction in the size of the Canadian cattle herd.
He said the ACC is hearing reports from ranchers across the country who say they may have to sell up to 40 percent of their herds before winter because they know they won’t have enough food for them.
“We hear that there is hay that isn’t even sold for a price. It goes up for auction because it’s so valuable,” Stadnicki said. “There are very big implications for the industry here. It is a big priority for us to maintain this national cow herd.”
The Saskatchewan government has already announced drought relief measures and will allow grain farmers with crop insurance to cancel harvests damaged by sun and heat.
Cattle ranchers will then be able to come in and collect what they can for food. Saskatchewan is also providing more funding for water supply projects like wells and dugouts.
The CCA and other farm groups are pushing other provinces to follow suit.
They are also seeking funding for emergency relief through AgriRecovery, a federal-provincial disaster assistance program.
The country’s agriculture ministers discussed the issue at a virtual federal-provincial-territorial meeting on Thursday.
Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said in a statement that she was working closely with her provincial partners to monitor and respond to the evolving drought in western Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.
She said the federal government is ready to do what it can to ensure that its programs adequately respond to the crisis, including business risk management programs.
In particular, she said drought-affected provinces could invoke AgriStability’s late participation provision to allow more producers to access the support provided by the program.
Bibeau said she had urged the Prairie governments to match the federal offer to increase the AgriStability compensation rate to 80%, “which would benefit struggling farmers more than ever.”
“This change would mean an additional $ 75 million nationwide going into the pockets of the farmers who need it most each year,” Bibeau said following the meeting.
Dean Hubbard, who operates a farm near Claresholm in southern Alberta, said the temperature hit 36C on his property on June 30 and is expected to hit the same impressive figure on Monday.
There is no rain expected for at least the next 10 days.
“Our peas at this point have very few pods, and they’re so short that I don’t know how anyone would harvest them. The spring wheat is pretty thin and very short,” Hubbard said. “There hasn’t been another year like this.”
Hubbard said in parts of Alberta, even though it is raining now, it will be too late to collect much of the harvest.
“Mentally it’s getting pretty difficult,” he said. “Just the fact of putting in so much work to get a crop and watching it wither on you, that bothers me.”
This summer’s drought follows several consecutive years of below normal rainfall in many agricultural areas. Experts say severe weather will become more frequent in the coming years due to climate change.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 15, 2021.