Edmonton

Alberta farmers endure drought as feds, province agree to recovery deal

Hot and dry conditions are so dire for Albertan farmers that the provincial and federal governments are collaborating on recovery efforts to help them survive the harvest.  

Governments scramble to help as farmers face lost crops

Alberta Canola farmers in the north bank on rain while southern farms are devastated from the late spring heat wave. (Lindsay Bird/CBC)

Hot and dry conditions are so dire for Albertan farmers that the provincial and federal governments are collaborating on recovery efforts to help them survive the harvest.  

Devin Dreeshen, Alberta's minister of agriculture and forestry, confirmed Thursday that the province is working through the details with the federal government for an AgriRecovery program. 

"I want to assure producers across Alberta that we understand the severity of this prolonged period of extreme dry weather and we are doing everything we can to ensure you receive the support you need," Dreeshen said in a news release. 

AgriRecovery is a cost-shared program that provides emergency support in cases of natural disaster with the federal government taking on 60 per cent of the cost with the remainder covered by provinces. Provinces submit requests to the federal government to activate the program.

Federal, provincial and territorial ministers of agriculture met on Thursday and discussed the drought situation in the western parts of Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia. 

Marie-Claude Bibeau, the federal minister of agriculture, said she's working with provincial counterparts to respond to the extreme weather events.

Dire outlook for canola

The effect of heat and dryness on Alberta's 13,000 canola producers varies depending on location. 

Ward Toma, general manager of Alberta Canola, said the northern areas are banking on rain while the southern areas were hit early in the June heat wave. 

"Things are looking pretty dire out there right now," Toma said Thursday. 

John Guelly has been a malt barley, wheat and canola farmer in Westlock County, north of Edmonton, for more than 30 years.  

"Temperatures over 30 C are usually a recipe for disaster," Guelly said.

The crops are affected by heat blast — after the flowers bloom, the heat doesn't allow them to pollinate so they don't fertilize and produce pods, Guelly explained. 

"If there's no pods, there's no seed, and if there's no seed, there's no money for us."  

Guelly, former chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said the price of canola has nearly tripled in the past few months, going as high as $27 a bushel compared to the average of $10.

Consumers may see this reflected in products like canola oil, he said.

Earlier crop assessments

Alberta's Agriculture Financial Services Corporation is being asked to assess pasture land and crops earlier than usual. 

The AFSC typically provides risk management and lending programs, including crop insurance, farm loans, hail insurance, and stability programs. 

"I have advised Alberta crop adjusters to be flexible and complete early assessments with affected crop and hay land – for example offering alternative use of crops to address forecasted feed shortages in our livestock industry," Dreeshen said. 

Darryl Kay, CEO of the AFSC, said a number of crop producers dealing with lower yields will need an adjuster to visit and inspect the crops before approving an alternative use. 

"It's a serious year and difficult year for producers and we want to make sure we're doing everything we can through our programming to support," Kay said.

Guelly agreed that turning crops into cattle feed may be the only recourse for some and he's hoping the AFSC will write off crops that are close to demise. He said if they don't see moisture in the next 10 to 14 days their "crops will be done."

Toma said it's important to make those adjustments to help cattle ranchers in the south, who are running out of summer pasture feed. 

"They're feeling the brunt of it." 

The AgriRecovery program could include crop insurance, compensation for lost crops, tax referrals, and cover exceptional expenses to get livestock fed and crops watered.  

@natashariebe

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