History Repeating Itself In The Peace River District

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“No measurable moisture was recorded in much of the area for most of the month of June. Whatever we did get was more like a heavy dew”

So far, when it comes drought disasters, Peace district municipalities are holding off joining the ranks of other jurisdictions – but only just. Record-dry conditions have prompted a number of municipalities from Lamont to Stettler to declare a state of agricultural disaster this year. For now, northwestern jurisdictions won’t join the list.

Minimal rainfall, strong winds and in some cases grasshopper infestations are dealing Peace producers a difficult hand again this year, says Municipal District of Fairview Reeve Ernie Newman. Crops in the Peace are starting to look like a carbon copy of last year, when many municipalities here were declared agricultural disaster areas. “The situation is critical,” Newman said early last week.

In 2008, jurisdictions on both sides of the Peace – Clear Hills, Fairview, MD #135, Spirit River, Saddle Hills, Birch Hills and Grande Prairie – were declared disaster areas. “It was a pretty extensive drought, one of the worst we’ve seen,” said Newman. “It’s almost déj vu this time out. “No measurable moisture was recorded in much of the area for most of the month of June. Whatever we did get was more like a heavy dew,” Newman said. “It didn’t even settle the dust.”

Though some areas did receive up to three-quarters of an inch of rain in late June, it may be too little, too late for some crops.

“The hay crops are looking pretty bad, and we’ve had a few nights of frost in June,” said Newman. “Some of the canola is starting to bolt. “We’ve got lots of brown pastures and wheat that’s already starting to head out.”

The MD of Fairview council will consider its Agriculture Service Board recommendation to declare an agricultural disaster at its next meeting in the middle of July. “Unless we get some significant amounts of rain here I’m quite sure we’ll be declaring a disaster,” said Newman.

Feed shortage

Like the rest of the province, the Peace area faces a critical cattle feeding situation. “There’s an extreme shortage of grass and hay, and in some places we’re going to have water issues,” said Newman. Producers are finding there’s “not much there” when they cut their hay and it’s not happening in pockets, it’s widespread, he said.

Things aren’t much better in the M. D. of Smoky River, reports ag fieldman Norm Boulet. The area did receive up to seven-tenths of an inch rainfall in late June, and that was enough to sustain Falher-area crops for a few more days, said Boulet. “It wasn’t quite a desperate situation before we got the rain but we were getting there.”

Grasshoppers are a problem in pockets of the municipality, “I’ve been getting a few calls related to grasshoppers,” Boulet said, adding that the perception that grasshoppers won’t eat canola is erroneous. “It depends on the species,” he said.

The M. D. of Smoky River was declared an ag disaster area last year, and Boulet is certainly hoping it won’t come to that again this year.

Like their Fairview counterparts, the County of Grande Prairie is holding steady on declaring its own disaster. In June the council narrowly defeated a motion to have the county declared an agricultural disaster due to drought by a vote of five to four. Reeve Everett McDonald has said that though council is concerned with the drought situation, he feels crops may still be salvaged if they get some precipitation.

The declaration of a disaster area doesn’t bring with it any financial relief to producers, but it does send a message to the province that they should be considered for whatever financial help might be coming.

Conventional crop insurance won’t help much, says Fairview’s Newman.

“There’s a percentage of producers who don’t have it, and those that do may have only the basic coverage to reduce premiums,” said Newman. “At $200/ acre in input costs, you can’t afford to lose half your inputs in one year, let alone two.”

After last summer’s miserable results, the M. D. of Fairview passed a resolution through its Ag Service Board to ask the government for assistance in the form of an acreage payment, and will be asking again this year, said Newman.

“This is getting to be a very serious situation and we feel the government should have some sort of commitment to agriculture in that respect.”

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