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Dairy farmers sue province, RM, company for losses due to 2011 flood evacuation

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Owners of a Hartney-area dairy farm are suing the provincial government, the local municipality and an insurance company for damages to their herd and farm operation during the flood of 2011.

Fred and Elizabeth Neil allege that a government-ordered evacuation of their dairy herd in June 2011 resulted in the death of 14 cows and the resulting stress of the evacuation to the remaining cows led to health issues and increased mortality rates in the herd and financial losses to the operation.

The Neils and their farm, Cell Farms Ltd., are asking the court to award them unspecified general and special damages and punitive damages from Wawanesa Insurance.

Statements of defence have not been filed. The allegations have not been proven in court. No date has been set for a hearing.

In documents filed recently with the court, the Neils state that officials from the provincial Emergency Measures Organization advised them on June 23, 2011 to evacuate and relocate their herd of 222 milking cows, "as it was the humanitarian thing to do given the projected flood levels."

The couple state that the RM of Cameron and EMO ordered them on June 30 to evacuate their home and farm.

Emergency dikes built up around their yard and dairy operation protected the farm from flooding, with no significant flood damage.

However, the Neils allege that during the evacuation of their herd to five area farms, 14 cows died.

Since the remaining cows were returned, the herd has experienced several heaLth issues which the Neils allege is a direct result of the evacuation. The mortality rate of the herd increased from five per cent before the evacuation to 40 per cent in 2012. The deaths were due to sickness and cows that had to be euthanized due to low production, severe lameness and arthritis.

The Neils also allege that the milk production of the remaining cows has declined, so much so that they had to purchase an additional 50 cows to meet their quota, and they allege they were forced to sell part of their quota to avoid bankruptcy due to financial losses resulting from the evacuation of the herd.

The Neils allege that the death of their cows prompted the Dairy Farmers of Manitoba (DFM) to adopt a policy against the evacuation of livestock in the event of a potential flood. However, a spokesman for the DFM said no such policy exists.

Brent Achtemichuk told the Free Press in an interview the DFM relies on the advice of government agencies to ensure the protection of livestock during emergencies, adding they would recommend that operators follow the advice of government in such situations.

Achtemichuk said he was unaware of any other dairy farm that had suffered similar losses because of the 2011 flooding, adding there are few dairy farm operations within the Assiniboine River flood plain.

The Neils state that the government bodies ought to have known the evacuation of the herd would have a negative effect on the health and productivity of the cows, which would result in reduced income.

The Neils are suing Wawanesa Insurance because they allege the company refused to pay them for the loss of the cows and loss of farm income.



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