Agricultural disaster

Bone-dry fields combined with late spring frosts have prompted the County of Stettler to declare a state of agricultural disaster.

These cattle on a farm west of Stettler have some grass to graze but the soil in the region is very dry. Stettler County has declared a local state of agricultural disaster.

Bone-dry fields combined with late spring frosts have prompted the County of Stettler to declare a state of agricultural disaster.

The decision was made following a special meeting of county council Wednesday.

“It’s pretty scary actually,” said Cara Bomphray, the county’s director of agricultural services. “It’s a pretty desperate situation.”

In many places there is no decent pasture land, except in low-lying areas. There are many areas where there has been almost no germination and crop growth.

The terrible growing conditions have also left what little is growing more vulnerable to pest and disease infestations.

The weather forecast is not offering much hope of respite. Spotty rainfall throughout the county is predicted over the next couple of weeks, said Bomphray. That is similar to what the county has seen for the last two weeks — and it is not enough.

What is needed, are two or three days of solid rainfall to kickstart crops.

At the Erskine Hutterite Colony, they are looking to the west for pasture land for their cattle.

“The pasture is getting short — no rain,” said Peter Hofer, from the colony west of Stettler. “We did get a little (rain) here two weeks ago. It looks like (the crops) are now out of energy.”

Hot and windy conditions Wednesday will only make matters worse.

“It’s nip and tuck. It’s really tough.”

The entire county is included in the agriculture disaster area. The County of Stettler covers a large area beginning about 20 km west of Stettler and stretching north past Donalda and south past Big Valley.

Paintearth County, to its east, and Camrose County, to the north, have already declared themselves agriculture disaster areas, along with Lamont, Provost, Smoky River and Vermilion River municipalities.

Bomphray said declaring a disaster area at the municipal level does not provide financial relief for farmers.

“What it does is it raises awareness and you can take that to the provincial and the federal governments.”

Other levels of government have already been approached, but there has not been any move to declare disasters at a higher level yet.

If the province declares a disaster, farmers are eligible for various tax savings until the crisis passes.

Other municipalities are also weighing their options. Red Deer County Councillor Jim Wood, who farms in the east and driest part of the county, raised the issue at a council meeting last week.

Wood said the county’s agriculture services board should consider whether to recommend that all or part of the county be declared a disaster area.

The issue is also expected to come up at Lacombe County’s council meeting today. Keith Boras, manager of environmental and protective services, said he will talk about disaster areas and what is happening around the province in a department update.

“I know we’re dry,” he said.

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