Looming hay shortage could shut down smaller cattle operations, says Sask. agriculture association

Drought-like conditions in southern Saskatchewan have left people hurting for hay.

Regina had its driest July in 130 years

Southern Saskatchewan is setting records for how little rain has fallen this summer. (CBC News)

A hay shortage in parts of southern Saskatchewan is causing problems for the agriculture industry in the province and may deal a killing blow to smaller cattle operations, says the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

Todd Lewis, president of the association, predicts the cattle auction will be busy this fall as farmers look to sell their stock if there's a shortage of water and feed for the winter months.

"If producers are short of cash and times are tough like we have had this year, it makes it pretty difficult," Lewis said.

Regina saw its driest July in 130 years with only 1.8 millimetres of precipitation during the month. That makes it the second driest July on record, behind July 1887 when 1.5 millimetres of rain fell. 

"A lot of situations, producers — especially some of those smaller guys — will just sell their herds off, disperse their herds and they'll be out of the cattle business. It's a pretty critical situation for the industry," Lewis said.

Daily highs in Regina averaged around four degrees warmer than normal in July, with 11 days above 30 C. Regina normally has around five days above that temperature. 

Regina and Swift Current have seen a record dry period from November to July. Moose Jaw also broke a record for the driest July on record, with around 4.3 millimetres of precipitation reported.

Farmers struggle

Bill Aulie farms near Rouleau, Sask., where he raises various crops and and Clydesdale horses.

After 53 days without rain, Aulie said he probably has less than half of the usual amount of hay — 1,200 bales compared with the usual 3,000 to 5,000.

Farmer Bill Aulie says he has received calls from ranchers, cattlemen and farmers who are short on hay, looking for some feed for their stock. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

"I was always told early by Dad, 'You better have some hay put away in case you get into a dry year,'" Aulie said. "So, we tried to keep almost a year's worth of hay in stock."

Aulie said he has received calls from ranchers, cattlemen and farmers who are short on hay, looking for some feed for their stock.

Lewis said the problem has been exacerbated by farmers coming up from the U.S. earlier in the year to buy reserve hay stocks.

"There was pretty big competition for the limited hay that was available," Lewis said. 

"Hay is short this year, no question."

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition and Bonnie Allen