After four soggy years of flooded pastures and ruined crops, the Manitoba government is looking at how to help frustrated farmers cope with climate change in the province's Interlake region.
The province has quietly issued a request for proposals for a study on how to deal with "excess moisture on agricultural lands" in the area sandwiched between Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg, north of the provincial capital.
'The Interlake has been under water for the last three or four years.' —Tom Szumigalski, MAFRI
The study is to include a look at drainage policy, crop insurance and best practices by affected farmers.
The government is also looking to the future. It wants a weather forecast "with emphasis on soil moisture extremes, including risk of flooding/excess moisture and drought events."
Many frustrated farmers say the proposed study is too little, too late, but the province says it's an important part of coming up with a strategy to help beleaguered producers.
Tony Szumigalski, a policy analyst with Manitoba Agriculture, said climate change appears to be causing greater extremes on the Prairies, from drought in Alberta to chronic flooding in Manitoba. "The Interlake has been under water for the last three or four years," he said. "It's been very difficult, especially for a lot of the livestock producers. Their hay fields have been flooded out so there have been issues getting enough hay. There have also been issues related to crops as well."
This spring has been particularly bad as the province struggled for weeks to contain the swollen Assiniboine River. That water has now flowed into Lake Manitoba where it has swallowed up hundreds of hectares of farmland along its shores. The lake isn't expected to crest until July and experts say it is likely to stay high for the rest of the year.
'It's a sad situation up here.' —Arborg farmer Dave Shott
But that is nothing new to farmers in the Interlake region, many of whom haven't harvested a crop in over three years. Steady rain for the last few years has saturated the soil, washed out roads and destroyed crops.
"It's a sad situation up here," said Dave Shott, who has been farming around Arborg, Man., for 22 years. "We have nothing. The atmosphere out here is total despair." Studies are all well and good, Shott said. But given most farmers are in their fifth year of ruined crops and flooded fields, it's about four years too late, he said.
Manitoba has found money to invest in a new football stadium and to make improvements to a popular provincial park just outside of Winnipeg, he pointed out, but farmers are being left out to dry. "They're going to be two years into a study to find out what they can do — or if there is anything they can do — and how many producers are going to be left to take advantage of it?"
There's no doubt farmers need help with drainage issues, but what they really need is financial help to tide them over until this wet cycle is over, Shott suggested. "If it weren't for our credit unions, I would say about 40 per cent of our producers out here would be done."
Kyle Foster, who also farms near Arborg, hasn't had a crop since 2007. He said the last few years have been a battle just to survive.
'They can study things to death but that doesn't help the producers.' —farmer Kyle Foster
He's also skeptical that a government study will turn things around in a region where optimism is in short supply. "We have struggled to try and hold our own," he said. "They can study things to death but that doesn't help the producers."