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Eastern farmers help drought-stricken West

Blowing dust, swarms of grasshoppers, and not enough hay to feed the starving livestock. For Prairie farmers, drought can be disastrous. But it's not just the farmers who suffer — a severe drought in Western Canada can hurt the entire Canadian economy. From the devastating dustbowl years of the Great Depression to some of the more recent Prairie dry spells, CBC Archives explores the history of drought in Western Canada.

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It's a heartwarming story. Farmers from Ontario to P.E.I. are sending shipments of hay to Western farmers who have been struggling through a horrible year of drought. Rail companies have volunteered to transport the hay across the country, and the federal government has pitched in financially to help with what's now being called the "Hay West" campaign. But according to this report from The National, all this help may still may not be enough. 
• Hay West was a grassroots movement started by farmers in Ontario and Quebec. Eastern farmers were experiencing bumper hay crop conditions in 2002 while the West was experiencing its second consecutive year of severe drought. Many Western farmers were getting rid of entire herds of livestock because they didn't have enough hay to feed them. Farmers in Ontario and Quebec decided they couldn't just sit back and watch this happen, so they began organizing Hay West.

• Farmers from the Atlantic Provinces soon joined the cause.
• CN and CP Rail donated the use of 187 of their rail cars to ship the hay.
• The federal government contributed $2.2 million toward the campaign.
• Between July and the end of October, the Hay West campaign shipped more than 110,000 bales of hay to the west.

• Since there wasn't enough hay being shipped for all the farmers, a lottery system was used to choose the fortunate farmers who would receive the hay. Each Prairie province organized its own Hay West lottery system.

• To raise awareness for Hay West, Ontario songwriter and musician Terilyn Spooner wrote a song called Make it Rain. She recruited several Canadian country musicians including Steve O'Connor, Andrew Affleck and John Crown to perform on the recording. The single was distributed to and played on country stations across Canada.

• Across Canada, Easterners and Westerners alike saw Hay West as a heartwarming Canadian story. As one P.E.I resident wrote in an August 2002 letter to the editor in the Charlottetown Guardian: "It was great to see hay from this part of the country going out west to help the farmers because, as some said, it was the Canadian thing to do. Those are the kinds of things that make Canada the place that it is."

• Not everyone had positive things to say about Hay West, however. Many critics said the amount of hay sent was less than one per cent of what was needed, and that the expense of shipping it from the East was extremely high compared to how little it was actually benefiting the farmers. A number of Western agricultural specialists said it would make more financial sense to ship the cattle to feedlots (areas where livestock are fed), according to an August 2002 Winnipeg Free Press article.

• Following on the heels of Hay West, two huge concerts called "Say Hay" were organized in October 2002 to raise money for Prairie farmers. One took place in Edmonton, and the other took place the next night in Calgary. More than 30 musical acts, including renowned Canadian country singers like Patricia Conroy and Tom Jackson, took part. The concert raised $1.5 million for the cause.
Medium: Television
Program: Adrienne Clarkson Presents
Broadcast Date: Feb. 2, 1993
Guest(s): Michael Coveney, Richard Eyre, Robert Lepage
Duration: 6:30

Last updated: August 31, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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