Farmers grazing ditches

Some Red Deer County pasture land is so dry it may not recover this year, said a county councillor on Tuesday.

A contracted mower stops cutting the Hwy 42 ditch near Pine Lake after taking a phone call from his Red Deer County supervisor. The county passed a policy this week to stop mowing its road rights-of-way so cattle producers can use the grass

Some Red Deer County pasture land is so dry it may not recover this year, said a county councillor on Tuesday.

“I don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councillor Jim Wood, who farms in the Elnora area in the east end of the county. “Even if it does rain, some of these crops are beyond coming back.

Wood said the further east you travel, the drier it gets. His farm has only seen one-10th an inch of rain this spring, he said.

The dry spell comes at a bad time. Pasture and hay crops rely on spring moisture to kick-start growth. If the rain doesn’t come, crops can become dormant and then the growth may never come back before the season ends.

“There are areas in our county right now where there is absolutely no pasture growing.”

Wood said some counties have already declared themselves disaster areas, and Red Deer County should consider it.

Wood plans to raise the issue at the next meeting of the county’s agriculture services board. The board will be encouraged to recommend that the county, or at least a portion of it, be declared a disaster area.

For farmers, the designation provides some tax relief if they are required to sell off herds because they can’t afford to feed them.

To give farmers a hand, county council unanimously passed a measure to allow farmers to use ditches next to county roads to graze cattle.

Frank Peck, county director of operations, said a similar move was made during the drought in 2002.

“We have some excellent growth along our rural roads,” he said.

The county does not intend to cut the grass in its 2,600 km of ditches this year to allow local farmers to make use of it.

Farmers who want to graze along rural roads must make a written request beforehand outlining where their animals will be and for how long.

The county will supply warnings signs. For the first time, a $100 deposit will be required for each sign to ensure they are returned. No deposit was required the last time and none of the signs were ever returned.

Peck said if cows are left to free graze, farmers should ensure they have flag people out to warn drivers. Livestock can also be tethered or enclosed in an electric fence.

County staff will meet with each producer on site to review sight lines, terrain, local traffic and proposed grazing procedures before livestock will be allowed on the right-of-way.

If the rain comes and the roadside grazing isn’t needed, the county will start mowing again.

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