Waterlogged Prairie farmers welcome federal, provincial relief

Prairie farmers are getting extra help to deal with flooding that has left their fields looking like golf courses with huge water hazards and simply turned others into lakes.

askatchewan Party Minister of Agriculture  Bob Bjonerud

askatchewan Party Minister of Agriculture Bob Bjonerud

Prairie farmers are going to get some extra government help to deal with one of the wettest seasons in recent memory.

The federal and three Prairie provincial governments will pump an additional $450 million into a program to cover farmland that either couldn’t be seeded or was washed out after seeding due to near non-stop rain in the spring and early summer.

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz called the aid “the largest and fastest relief package” ever delivered under AgriRecovery, a program designed specifically for natural disasters.

“Affected Prairie producers will receive $30 per acre in assistance to help them take immediate measures to protect, rehabilitate and manage affected cropland,” Ritz said Thursday in Saskatoon.

The funding fell short of what some farm groups wanted, but was welcomed nonetheless.

“We were hoping for a little more than that, but it’s in the ballpark, that’s for sure,” said Ian Wishart, head of Keystone Agricultural Producers, the largest farm group in Manitoba.

“And governments these days are very careful with money, so we are certainly pleased to see these kinds of numbers.” Theresa Bergsma, executive director with the Manitoba Corn Producers Association, was also grateful for the help.

“I think any amount of money for those acres that were not able to be planted is helpful in planting some cover crop and, once it dries out, getting that land re-established so that next year’s it’s up and ready to go.”

In Saskatchewan, the province hardest hit by rainfall, some said the money may not be enough to cover expenses.

“It would cover close to some of the basic input costs, but it doesn’t go any further than that,” said Don Connick, a grain farmer near Gull Lake and vice-president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

“If you have your money in the ground and then it was subsequently destroyed, that means that you’re out of pocket.”

Heavy rainfalls have washed out fields across the Prairies this year, making many areas simply too soaked to seed.

Total seeded acreage this year will be more than three million hectares below the normal level of 24 million, according to estimates Thursday from grain-handling company Viterra.

Another 800,000 hectares that was seeded was drowned by the rain that kept coming through June and early July.

Politicians and farmers have said the devastation is the worst they’ve seen in decades.

“I have never, in my farming career, seen a spring where we had this kind of moisture and these kind of conditions,” Connick said. “Some people are going to take a big hit.”

“It’s record wet in a lot of areas and … it’s a lot larger area than the last few years,” Wishart said.

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