County of Stettler Coun. James Nibourg Black Press file photo

Updated: Stettler County declares agricultural disaster

Dry spring and wet fall have plagued farmers and delayed harvest

When farmers came asking to use County of Stettler ditches to graze their cattle, it was clear these are hard times.

“In the past, we had the odd person and we would deal with it,” said Coun. James Nibourg. “In this case, there were multiple requests.”

Nibourg, who runs a 50-head sheep operation south of Esrkine as a sideline, raised the issue of declaring an agricultural disaster for the region at this week council meeting. Council agreed and formally made the declaration to highlight how bad the situation is.

“This is a situation where now I have to get some attention to what’s going on and what’s happening with our producers,” he said Friday.

“I mean our guys are hurting. If you go on to social media, you can see where guys are feeling the strain of this,” he said.

Others are also raising the alarm. Earlier this week, a coalition of Alberta crop commissions urged the government to be ready to respond quickly to what is expected to be a lousy harvest.

In Stettler County, dry conditions in the spring, followed by excessive moisture from snow in September and October, have created the bad situation.

Only 43 per cent of crops in the central region have been combined — the five-year average at this time of year is 79 per cent — according to a crop reporting survey from the Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and Agriculture Financial Services Corp.

“As we sit here today, many farmer’s crops remain on the field because of unseasonable weather conditions,” said Stettler County Reeve Larry Clarke.

“The snow and moisture have made it difficult to get into the fields. Certain crops will diminish in value as these crops remain in the fields.”

Nibourg said many people think farmers are concerned only about input costs and the bottom line. But there is much more at stake for producers, he said.

“We care about our animals. We want to make sure they’re in good shape. If they’re not getting the pasture to eat on, or they’re stressed because they’re being moved to four or five different places, it’s not good for anybody.”

The county’s Agricultural Services Board was not happy that the region was left off a list of areas identified to qualify for the federal Livestock Tax Deferral Program because it did not make the cut as a drought- or flood-affected region.

Giving Stettler-area producers access to the tax deferment program would help, and the province has other programs that could provide some relief for farmers, said Nibourg

“The biggest thing is getting attention for what’s going on.”

Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood, who is a cattleman, said his council has not discussed a disaster declaration.

Wood, who also grows peas, wheat, barley, canola and hay on his farm in east Red Deer County, remains optimistic that some respite from the cold, wet conditions is coming.

“If the forecast is correct, it’s quite likely we’re going to see a good amount of harvest in the next two weeks,” said Wood, who has about one-third of his crops off.

“I’ve put in 43 crops, and I’ve done a lot of harvesting in October.”

For farmers, wet crops can be a financial double whammy. The quality goes down and so does the selling price. On the other side of the ledger, costs go up because crops need drying.

Wood drove all the way to Manitoba to buy a crop dryer, which have jumped in price in Alberta because of demand.

A poor hay harvest has limited supplies and driven up prices to as much as 11 cents a pound — three times the normal price. Some farmers will likely be looking at alternatives, such as mixing in straw with grains and other nutrients to replace hay.

Red Deer County stays in close contact with Alberta Agriculture and is watching the situation closely.

“I guess the key message is if there is a point in time where (the crops) get snowed under and it’s winter, I’m sure Red Deer County is going be doing everything it can to urge the minister of agriculture to help our farmers.”

Wood can only shake his head at this year’s weather.

“We’re supposed to be having global warming and, holy cow, we’ve got global cooling.”

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