Edmonton

Drought hurting businesses in rural Alberta towns

Organic food grower Mandy Melnyk thinks she has lost one-third of her income due to drought. She has yet to sell anything at market this year.
Organic farmer Mandy Melnyk expects to lose a third of her income this year due to drought. (CBC )

Alberta's drought is draining money from farmers' bank accounts, and from cash registers in the businesses that depend on them as customers.

Marie Kreiser runs the Phoenix Motel in Newbrook, a hamlet in one of several counties that have declared states of agricultural disaster.

She says the drought and the downturn on the oilpatch are hurting her bottom line.

Cattle and grain farmer Nelson Boychuk may have sell off part of his herd. (CBC)
"Some pretty slow days," she said. "If the money isn't there, they can't spend it."

Organic food grower Mandy Melnyk thinks she has lost one-third of her income due to drought. She has yet to sell anything at market this year.

"If we don't sell, we don't get paid," she said. "Having absolutely no cash flow has been really, really hard for us."

Melnyk had to lay off three employees and plow down potatoes and onions that will never recover from a lack of water. Her tomatoes are much smaller than usual and she expects to lose about half her crop.

Melynk doesn't qualify for crop insurance because she grows organic vegetables. She says the lack of cash has forced her to cut costs at home.

"I normally would buy one meal a week at my local restaurant Mama's Italian in Thorhild, and I haven't seen them in like six weeks," she said.

"They phoned to check in and make sure I'm OK, and I am. But we eat a lot of eggs, we eat a lot of pasta, because I'm feeding a lot of people."

Cattle and grain farmer Nelson Boychuk said he's in "survival mode" right now. His pastures are barren, which means there isn't enough grass for his cattle to graze.

He may have to use more of his grain for feed or bring some in, at triple the cost.

He may have to sell off part of his herd. Buying equipment, clothes, restaurants and vacations isn't an option.

"Those dollars aren't going to be going into the system," he said.

Boychuk says it takes cattle farmers a couple of years to regain their financial footing after a year of drought.

now