Drought-stricken farmers and ranchers in Western Canada can expect new support from federal and provincial governments to offset the damage created by extreme weather conditions this year.
At a press conference in Winnipeg Thursday, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced measures to combat the severe crop losses, reduced forage and diminishing water supplies for livestock that producers are facing because of sweltering heat and a lack of rain.
"This is a severe crisis and that’s why we’re providing immediate solutions," Bibeau told reporters at The Forks, following a tour of Manitoba’s Interlake region — an area that’s been battered by a devastating drought this season, with many farmers forced to sell their breeding herd at auction.
"I wanted to come to Manitoba to talk to you in person and to see with my own eyes the devastating effects that extreme heat and insect damage are having on your farms," Bibeau said.
"I can’t begin to imagine the stress that producers are going through. Watching your pastures and crops dry up, wondering how you’re going to get your animals through the winter, and facing the prospect of sending cattle off to auction, animals that are the result of generations of careful genetic selection, hard work and sacrifice."
Bibeau was accompanied by executives from the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers.
She unveiled the early designation of a Livestock Tax Deferral provision for affected regions in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. This will allow beef producers who’ve been selling their herd due to extreme weather to defer a portion of their income and revenue to the 2022 tax year.
Additionally, Bibeau revealed immediate bilateral adjustments for all Prairie provinces to the federal-provincial-producer, cost-shared AgriInsurance program. That means the amount of crops available for livestock producers will potentially increase and be available for feed.
"I am here to listen and help those farm families hard hit by this extreme weather," said Bibeau. "Now is the time for governments and all Canadians to rally around those who work tirelessly to put food on our tables each and every day."
Meantime, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. will also make it easier for producers claiming crop losses due to the drought to repurpose what’s left of their grain cereal crops into cattle feed.
Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the hay disaster benefit will pay an additional $44 per tonne for every tonne below coverage, to offset the current high cost of feed and feed transportation.
"With pastures drying up and minimal sources of feed for livestock, it’s important to give producers the resources they need to secure feed to maintain their herds," Eichler said in a statement Thursday. He did not attend the news conference with Bibeau.
Typically, support through the hay disaster benefit (which was first triggered in 2019) would not be made until January, once the majority of claims and harvest production data is processed.
Severe impacts of climate change this year, however, have translated to the devastating blow of a particularly stunted growth for hay and other feed across Western Canada. And experts predict the heat stretches that caused this calamity will only become more and more common.
According to the latest report, earlier this month from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, "extreme" and "exceptional" droughts — not seen in decades — are happening in large swaths of central and southern Manitoba, and other Prairie provinces.
Drought conditions such as those only happen once every two or five decades. But now, they’re happening "far too frequently" and in "many parts of the country at the same time," the Canadian Drought Monitor states.
"There’s just no denying how dire the situation is," Tyler Fulton, president of Manitoba Beef Producers, told reporters Thursday on the verge of tears. His organization represents 6,300 members of the sector in the province, who he hears from every day.
"I’m very heartened that Minister Bibeau made the trip here today and is providing this relief. It’s heartbreaking what our industry is going through — just years and years of hard work have all gone down the drain."
Fulton urged long-term solutions to these climate-related issues, "because time is running out."
However, while answering questions from the Free Press, Bibeau said Thursday’s announcement is a short-term strategy and that long-term solutions are still under consultation.
"We’re working to build a sustainable future for the agriculture sector and we know that climate change will continue to challenge farmers — it’s already doing so in the field right now," she said. "The work will continue and it isn’t over because we’re talking to all provinces and coming up with plans.
"But today, the announcement was really specific on short-term support... It’s a demonstration that we will do more."