Ontario farmers sending hay to drought-stricken Saskatchewan farms

Farmers in Ontario are sending shipments of hay to their agricultural peers in Saskatchewan to help them feed livestock this winter, after a summer of drought in Western Canada severely hurt crop production.

'We felt this was one way that we could help them back as they helped us'

Saskatchewan farmer Curtis Mattson is just one of the recipients of donated hay from Ontario that will be used to feed livestock. Western Canada was hit by drought this summer that severely hindered crop production. (Grant Unrau/MDS Canada)

Southern Ontario farmers are sending shipments of hay to their agricultural peers in Saskatchewan to help them feed livestock following a summer drought that severely affected crop production. 

The major drought in Western Canada has left farmers without enough hay for winter.

This fall, Ontario farmers began shipping donations to the West in efforts led by the non-profit Mennonite Disaster Services Canada (MDS). The Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) has taken up the same cause with its initiative launched earlier this year. 

The recipients of the MDS donations are not chosen based on religious affiliation, according to the organization. 

"We're helping our brothers and sisters that are suffering out there," said Lester Weber, MDS Canada's Ontario unit secretary. "We felt this was one way that we could help them back as they helped us."

'They simply loaded up the trucks'

Not long ago, the roles were reversed. 

Weber said that in 2012, when Ontario suffered through its own drought, farmers in Saskatchewan stepped in to help. 

"They simply loaded up the trucks and sent hay this way because they heard of our need." 

The group has been receiving donations from farmers in Waterloo Region, Niagara and other parts of southern Ontario, he said. They're bound for communities across southern Saskatchewan — including Chaplin, Wood Mountain and Maple Creek. 

"We're hearing from our folks in Saskatchewan that the need is astronomical," said Weber. "It's probably more than we can comprehend as a smaller community here in southern Ontario, just the vastness of the Prairies and the vastness of the need." 

The group is charging a fee for the hay, in order to cover shipping costs that have been discounted, said Weber. 

Fifty-seven Saskatchewan farmers have so far requested hay, said Weber. Thirteen loads of hay, each with about 50 bales, have already been shipped. 

Hay donated by Chris Freur in Smithville, Ont., is being loaded for shipment to Saskatchewan. (Nick Hamm/MDS Canada)

'Farmers help farmers'

"Farmers help farmers," John Longhurst of MDS Canada said from its headquarters in Winnipeg. "It doesn't matter whether that's a farmer who's a neighbour up the road or a farmer who's a couple of provinces away."

He said he expects that mutual aid could be called on more regularly in the coming years. 

Longhurst said the frequency of disasters, like droughts, which his organization has responded to has been increasing yearly, something he attributes to the climate crisis. 

"There's just more, and more and more," he said. "They're growing in number every year." 

The next shipments of Ontario hay are set to leave Clinton, Ont., for Saskatchewan this Friday.