Farmers disappointed Ottawa not offering special help for flooded fields

Ottawa is not offering Prairie farmers any immediate, special help to recover from this year’s flood, which some peg at costing producers $1 billion in lost revenue.

WINNIPEG — Ottawa is not offering Prairie farmers any immediate, special help to recover from this year’s flood, which some peg at costing producers $1 billion in lost revenue.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told a news conference in Winnipeg that affected farmers will be eligible to apply for help under existing insurance programs. Those programs worked well for those affected by the 2011 flood and they will do the same for farmers now, he said.

“Farmers know that they’re well-served by the programs that are there,” Ritz said Friday following the annual meeting of federal and provincial agriculture ministers.

“We worked diligently through 2011. We’ll be doing the same assessments and moving forward.”

It’s estimated at least 1.6 million hectares of farmland in Manitoba and Saskatchewan have been damaged by flooding in recent weeks. Torrential rain in both provinces at the beginning of July caused widespread, overland flooding in rural areas.

Manitoba declared a state of emergency and called in the military to help shore up flood defences as flood water made its way east from Saskatchewan. While urban centres were largely left unscathed, the floodwater turned fields into lakes.

Even before the rain hit, around 405 thousand hectares of land in Manitoba had gone unseeded because of overland flooding. Crop insurance now covers unseeded or flooded hectares, which should help farmers, Ritz said.

“That’s much more bankable and predictable and stable than waiting for an ad-hoc payment,” he said.

Ottawa will be working closely with the provinces to look at building up flood defences so the country isn’t dealing with “these situations on a crisis basis,” he added.

Doug Chorney, head of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said that’s not much comfort for farmers who were hoping to hear more from the federal government. Farmers are looking at losing $1 billion because of flooding, he said. Farmers in Manitoba have been battered by flooding and many will be forced to leave the industry if they don’t get extra help, he said.

“I was hoping to hear they were planning on having a strong, robust AgriRecovery program that would get producers through this difficult time. We didn’t hear that so I’m disappointed,” Chorney said after listening to Ritz. “This is going to be devastating for producers who’ve been expecting to hear there will be help.”

Crop insurance isn’t much help, especially for farmers who have been hit by flooding before, Chorney said. Their deductible goes up and doesn’t end up paying many bills, he said.

Farmers who were hit hard by the 2011 flood in Manitoba are demoralized, Chorney said.

“They don’t have the resolve to carry on,” he said. “People are talking about piece-mealing off their farm, getting out of cattle because they have no pasture … We can’t wait for government. Clearly we’re hearing that government is not going to be here for many producers. That’s unfortunate.”

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn said the province still doesn’t know the extent of the damage caused by this most recent flood. The province is still working on how many producers have been affected and exactly how many hectares have been lost, he said.

“The sad reality is that Mother Nature is the element we cannot control,” Kostyshyn said. “When you have a rainfall that is 150 to 200 per cent higher than the norm, you don’t have proper infrastructure that can even handle that velocity of water.”

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