'Challenging times' for Manitoba farmers as drought conditions persist
Dry conditions are putting a strain on Manitoba's agriculture sector
Near Oak Point, Man., rancher Tom Johnson waters his cattle using makeshift troughs made out of old tractor tires.
"They probably just drank these dry this morning," he said.
The dugouts his 120 head of cattle usually get water from are nearly dry. His cattle also have access to Lake Manitoba, but its level is so low, the water is too far away.
So twice a day — morning and night — he hauls water from two wells.
"Never have I had to drill wells," Johnson told CBC News during an interview on his farm. "The dugouts have always lasted until late October, they freeze in November and we get snow.… End of June, beginning of July and our dugouts are dry.
"I've never, ever seen that before."
Many of his neighbours are in the same boat, he said.
Dugouts are dry, fields have little to no hay to bale and pastures are bare.
State of disaster
In the rural municipality of St. Laurent, an agricultural state of disaster has been declared. The RM is asking for provincial and federal help.
Otherwise they say some farmers may need to sell or cull their herds.
It's a similar story across Manitoba.
Many areas have received less than half the normal amount of rainfall. Last week's extreme heat stunted crop growth even further.
It has also put greater strain on water supplies.
"To say that we haven't seen this before wouldn't be right, but we're in some challenging times," said Bill Campbell, who operates a farm near Minto, Man., south of Brandon.
Campbell, who is also president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said his farm is also dry.
Livestock producers, he said, need the most help.
"Probably the most important thing at this point in time is access to good, clean drinking water for livestock," said Campbell.
On Wednesday, Premier Brian Pallister told reporters that he has toured parts of the Interlake. He said discussions about what aid the province can offer will happen soon.
"We're all hoping for rain because there was some timely rains a number of days ago. But we need more rain," said Pallister. "The drought conditions are real."
In a statement, a spokesperson for Manitoba Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen said the department is closely monitoring conditions across the province and is in discussions with impacted groups to see how the province may be of additional assistance.
Holding out hope
Johnson said he isn't ready to throw in the towel and sell his herd yet, but will hold out as long as he can.
"We're gonna see how far we can go and make those tough decisions this fall," he said.
Campbell said it's too early to attach a monetary value on how much this year's drought could cost Manitoba farmers.
He said that won't be known until crops are harvested later this summer. Campbell said farmers will need to make some crucial decisions in the coming weeks.
With files from Cameron Macintosh