Farmers seeking aid from ministers

SASKATOON — Waterlogged Prairie farmers say they’re facing a crisis and need help from Canada’s agriculture ministers who are meeting in Saskatoon this week.

SASKATOON — Waterlogged Prairie farmers say they’re facing a crisis and need help from Canada’s agriculture ministers who are meeting in Saskatoon this week.

Producers want aid for drowned crops and unseeded land after up to triple the normal rainfall turned many fields to lakes. Central and northeast Saskatchewan were hardest hit, but parts of Alberta and Manitoba are also dealing with the aftermath of the deluge.

The National Farmers Union says agriculture programs can’t cover the losses.

“It’s not going to be enough to get producers through it,” Kevin Wipf, executive director of the National Farmers Union, said Tuesday.

“And it’s even beyond unseed acres. Some of the crops that went in the ground, there’s been significant crop damage and it’s turned into quite a crisis around here.”

The National Farmers Union wants the federal government to top up crop insurance by $50 per acre for all farmers on all unseeded acres up to 2,000 acres per farm. It says without adequate payments, family farms will be devastated.

“Producers need something to be able to get through the year or they’re not going to be able to stay in operation and plant crops next year,” said Wipf.

Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud says he hopes the agriculture ministers meeting on Wednesday and Thursday leads to a better cost-sharing agreement with the federal government on farm aid.

Bjornerud says it could take a little while for any money to flow, but farmers need to hear that it will.

The federal Liberals on Tuesday called on the agriculture ministers to work with farmers to improve the Agri-Stability, Agri-Invest and the Agri-Recovery programs.

Saskatchewan Liberal MP Ralph Goodale said the agricultural programs created by the Harper government isn’t responding to the needs of farmers.

“The programs that are there will generate something as a form of compensation, but I think it’s important for these agriculture ministers to recognize that something is not going to be nearly adequate to cope with this order of magnitude of disaster,” he said.

“What farmers need to know quickly is that the government is going to stand with them. That they’re not going to be left to their own devices in some kind of uncertain never-never land over the course of the next several weeks or months.”

Goodale suggests Saskatchewan is prepared to start the flow of aid to its own farmers, but he says Ottawa is slowing the process.

“We need the program to be in place so producers know something might be coming and they can kind of count on that,” he said.

More than six million hectares of cropland across the Prairies is unseeded because of saturated fields.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz toured some of the flooded areas in east-central Saskatchewan last month to see the damage. Ritz said at the time that he’s working on the specifics of which program would get the most cash out as quickly as possible to farmers.

Wipf says farmers need to see immediate action.

“It’s OK to fly over fields and go around saying ’We’re going to do something,’ but we haven’t heard anything yet. There’s been nothing concrete laid out and what we’re saying is producers, farmers, need help now.”

— By Jennifer Graham in Regina