Extreme drought pushing Manitoba farmers to the brink

It is bone dry right across Western Canada.

That’s according to Agriculture reporter Harry Siemens, who says intense heat the past couple of weeks is creating desperation among farmers.

“We have cattle producers, right now as we speak, out of feed. They can’t afford to bring it in from anywhere and there’s no place to really bring it from,” he says.

Siemens says Saskatchewan is launching a collaborative program between livestock and crop farmers, which he says needs to happen in Manitoba.

“We’re not looking for handouts. We need the provincial government to step in and help. We’re looking for the Manitoba Crop Insurance Program so grain producers with poor crops can partner with livestock producers to get feed in a timely manner.”

Ralph Eichler was given the province’s agriculture portfolio on Thursday during a cabinet shuffle, and Siemens says even though Eichler previously held the post, he disagrees with the decision to replace Manitoba’s Minister of Agriculture in the middle of a drought.

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The longtime Morden/ Winkler farmer says he’s seeing farmers resort to desperate measures just to make ends meet.

“The cattle producer has two choices. Somehow wait for rain and see if he can scrape together some feed, which isn’t a great choice. And second, we’ve got auction markets that would be closed in summer and they are open right now. We are having sales for those producers who just don’t know what to do with the cattle.”

Melissa Atchison and her husband run the Poplarview Stock Farm in Pipestone, Man. She says they usually run about 800 mother cows “and run grassers as well, but not this year. This year the grassers had to go,” she says.

Atchison says they sold heifers they’d usually run on grass because they saw how little snow fell this past winter and they were trying to get ahead of a slow year, but she admits neither she nor her partner expected it to be this dry.

“We’re trying to secure some winter feed right now. It’s difficult to find because we’re not the only ones experiencing drought.”

She says there is a much higher level of general stress in her household because they don’t know how they’ll get through the winter.

“Looking at the weather forecast with no rain, there’s no doubt folks are going to have to make a decision to cut severely into their cowherd and I don’t doubt there will be plenty of mother cows heading into town in the next few weeks,” she says.

Atchison echoes the call from Siemens, saying Minister Eichler who is no stranger to drought conditions, needs to quickly build a practical and timely program to help producers.

“Time is certainly of the essence. I think things almost needed to happen yesterday with the way the weather is going. This is a natural disaster.”

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