New programs aim to help Manitoba's drought-battered producers, beekeepers

Two programs to help drought-impacted livestock producers with higher-than-normal costs incurred because of the extremely dry summer were launched Tuesday by the Manitoba government.

'To say it's been a challenging time would be an understatement,' Manitoba Beef Producers president says

Pasture land in parts of Manitoba was so dry there wasn't enough volume to make hay bales, which meant cattle herds had to be moved often — and sometimes great distances — to find grazing land. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

There are two new programs to help Manitoba livestock producers with higher-than-normal costs because of the extremely dry summer, the provincial government said Tuesday.

The drought resulted in poor growth in pastures, which often meant animals had to be moved multiple times to graze, and sometimes a great distance.

Feed was also impacted by the conditions, which means more supplies have been brought in than in a typical year.

"These dry conditions across Manitoba have created extremely stressful and challenging situations for many producers, and the agriculture sector continues to display the resiliency of our farm families," Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Ralph Eichler said at a news conference on Tuesday morning.

"It is very difficult for producers to choose between feeding their livestock this winter or sending them to auction."

The livestock feed and transportation drought assistance program will help producers offset freight costs associated with moving livestock around and transporting feed — hay, straw, green feed and silage — from distant locations, Eichler said.

The program will also help producers purchase and test feed to maintain their breeding herds, he said.

Eligible animals under the program are breeding animals for beef and dairy cattle, horses raised for pregnant mare urine (PMU), sheep, goats and bison.

Producers must have a minimum of 10 animals to qualify for assistance and the program covers feed and feed transportation expenses from June 1, 2021, to March 15, 2022.

Feed must have been delivered from a supplier at least 40 kilometres away and assistance is available for hauling feed for up to a maximum one-way distance of 600 km.

The livestock transportation program offers help to producers with extraordinary costs to transport breeding animals of beef cattle, sheep and goats up to 1,000 km to feed at alternative locations. The program does not cover moving animals to market or sale.

The second program is being designed to support producers who auctioned off their herds.

"We are working with the federal government on a program that will help you get your cows back into your herd," Eichler said.

The cowherd-rebuilding program is still being finalized and full details are not yet available, he said. 

The feed transportation program and the cowherd rebuilding program are both supported under the AgriRecovery framework, which is part of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, with funding shared on a 60-40 federal-provincial basis.

Beekeeper help

The province is also working on a program to help the beekeeping industry, which was also hit hard by the heat and drought that severely affected pastures and crops, which in turn decreased nectar and pollen.

"Beekeepers are looking for government assistance to offset the extraordinary costs to … maintain the 100,000 commercial beehives in Manitoba this fall and winter," he said.

"Be assured that staff are assessing the requests and working with our federal and provincial colleagues to address this matter."

Southern Manitoba was parched through most of the spring and summer, with some municipalities declaring states of agricultural disaster and others restricting water use.

Weeks of heat warnings were the norm as temperatures soared, leaving fields stunted and brown. Pasture lands were so dry there wasn't enough volume in many cases to make hay bales.

The Winnipeg area recorded the driest July in almost 150 years. The city has had 34 days with temperatures of 30 C or higher since May, which ties 1961 for second most all-time. The record of 35 was set in 1988.

On average, Winnipeg sees 13 days a year when temperatures reach or surpass that mark.

Tyler Fulton, president of Manitoba Beef Producers, said the programs announced by Eichler will greatly help producers who have experienced one of the toughest years.

"To say it's been a challenging time would be an understatement," he said.

"We've seen producers making very difficult decisions about how many cattle they can keep based on the feed and water resources that they have."

Some have downsized their herds, while others have sold entire herds, he said.

"And I'd say there are hundreds of producers that are seeing significantly less than 50 per cent of their normal winter feed production. These are circumstances that are unique — they've never dealt with them before."

That has led to skyrocketing prices for the feed that does exist, reaching as high as triple the normal cost, Fulton said.

Producers are now making important management decisions for their operations heading into the next few months, and the new programs will help with that process, Fulton said.


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