Farmers are calling for emergency relief after two rural municipalities in Manitoba’s Interlake region declared a state of agriculture disaster earlier this month following drought, extreme heat, and a destructive surge of grasshoppers.
CBC News reports that St. Laurent declared a state of disaster on July 5 in the face of extreme heat and drought. That was followed on July 9 by Armstrong, with municipal leaders requesting immediate provincial and federal assistance. In a special meeting, Armstrong councillors asked for “support and Ag Recovery to our farmers for tax deferrals, feed shortages, freight assistance, and compensation for additional wells being drilled,” according to council minutes [pdf].
This past March, as part of a proposal to expand its AgriStability program, the federal government lowered the threshold for production losses needed to trigger payouts to farmers by eliminating the program’s reference margin limit. In the expanded program, Ottawa will continue to pay 60% of costs, but will also require provinces to provide additional funds, according to CBC.
NDP leaders across the Prairie region have been urging their governments to sign on to the proposal, but Manitoba has yet to do so, says an April report from Global News. All three Prairie provinces did form an agreement with Ottawa in March to remove the limit, but have yet to invest any funds to increase the compensation rate. Pointing to tight budgets as a reason, Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s minister of agriculture and forestry, said it was “frustrating to see the federal government not willing to budge or bend” on the provincial contribution aspect, Global reports. Now, as drought strikes Manitoba, NDP agriculture critic Diljeet Brar told The Winnipeg Free Press the provincial government “should respond and act immediately, right now, because thousands need the help today.”
Following a July 15 meeting with provincial ministers, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said she “urged Prairie governments to match the federal offer to raise AgriStability compensation rate to 80%, which would benefit distressed farmers now more than ever”. She added that the change “would mean an added C$75 million nationally into the pockets of farmers who need it the most every year.”
The Western Producer reports that the federal government has now committed support for drought-stricken farmers through the AgriRecovery program as it waits for the provinces to accept the proposed changes to the AgriStability program.
As the various levels of government consider options for aid, the situation for farmers in the region is growing desperate, writes CTV News. “We have three dugouts here and they’re all dry,” said John Dyck, who raises 125 head of cattle west of Teulon. “When we get to the yard, you can see the grass—it’s like pavement.”
Despite rainfall in early June, Manitoba’s Interlake region has seen as low as 40% of normal precipitation over the past month, writes the Manitoba Drought Monitor. Reported yields for first-cut hay are 50 to 80% of normal, and the combination of heat and drought stress is causing crops to mature faster than usual—likely leading to losses.
“With this heat there will be pod abortion, and the wheat won’t be as good as it could be,” Bill Campbell, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agriculture Producers, told CBC. “It’s just too much stress and you don’t get it back.”
Looking ahead, heat dome weather patterns over Manitoba are diminishing the chances for more precipitation. Normally, thunderstorms provide most of the province’s precipitation, but stagnant air prevents the turbulence necessary to collide cool air with hot to generate storms, explains The Winnipeg Free Press.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Sara Hoffman. “If you’re not getting a lot of water to start, you’re not having a healthy crop to start off with, and then you’re not getting that evapotranspiration from the crop to help generate a thunderstorm or precipitation.”