Severe drought forces several Manitoba rural municipalities to declare state of disaster

More than 10 rural municipalities have declared a state of agricultural disaster in Manitoba after a hot dry summer has left farmers struggling to feed their cattle.

Dry summer has led to shortage of hay, feed for cattle

Cattle farmers are calling on the provincial and federal governments to intervene after hot dry weather has led to hay shortages in Manitoba. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

More than 10 rural municipalities have declared a state of agricultural disaster in Manitoba after a hot dry summer has left farmers struggling to feed their cattle.

"We are in a dire situation here," Arnthor Jonasson, the reeve of the RM of West Interlake, told CBC's Marjorie Dowhos on Radio Noon Thursday.

Hay yields have been far below average in Manitoba this summer but farmers across Canada have also been impacted in recent years after a series of dry seasons.

In July, the province announced that because of the dry conditions, it would temporarily allow livestock producers to cut hay and let their animals graze on Crown land not normally designated for agricultural use.

Manitoba's producers are now sounding the alarm, Jonasson said, hoping to get the attention of the provincial and federal governments to provide financial assistance.

Jonasson said the farmers are asking both levels of government to do an assessment under the agri-recovery program framework.

"They should consider immediate feed and freight assistance and some compensation for the drilling of wells or for the hauling of water to livestock," said Jonasson.

Jonasson said many farmers may be forced to reduce their herds or go get out of the cattle business entirely. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

"People are hauling water, people are feeding cattle on pasture," he said,

Feed for cattle has become hard for farmers to come by at all, Jonasson said, and costly for farmers if they do.

"Producers are looking at trying to find feed, but feed prices right now are very, very high, and so many producers are being faced with possibly liquidating portions of their herd, if not all the herd," he said.

"Every day that ticks on, you get closer to having to make that difficult decision."

'Very, very dry'

Earlier this month Keystone Agricultural Producers and Manitoba Beef Producers urged farmers across the province to list available hay, straw and alternative feeds for use in order to help out those struggling to feed their herds due to shortages.

Since then, Jonasson said, many have offered help, but the costs of shipping feed and straw are high and many farmers can't afford it.

He said the areas most impacted are in the Interlake and Parkland regions.

The RM's involved include Alonsa, Armstrong, Bifrost - Riverton, Coldwell, Ethelbert, Fisher, Grahamdale, Lakeshore, McCreary, West Interlake and Woodlands.

"Those are probably the worst affected areas but there may be others as well," Jonasson said.

Producers have been concerned for weeks, he said, with dugouts drying out and farmers having to start feeding cattle in August, which is early.

Farmers have faced dry years in the past, but Jonasson said this is the worst he's seen.

"To this extent, I don't think it's happened that I can remember," he said.

"It is very, very dry."

The looming provincial election has some worried it could delay government intervention but Jonasson hopes there will be a response in the coming days.

"We need action from our provincial government, and I know it's difficult because there's no government right now, they've dropped the writ," he said

"When the election happens, it'll almost be too late."

With files from Marjorie Dowhos and Sam Samson


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