Lake Manitoba ranchers fear another year of losses — and that compensation will dry up

Worried Soggy ranchers appeal to province to extend last year’s compensation programs to include this year

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Manitoba’s 2011 flood waters have receded, but residents and ranchers along the shore of Lake Manitoba are still dealing with the damage they caused.

Flooded fields, clogged drains, downed fences and cattail-filled pastures where now only seagulls graze are common sights.

Jonas Johnson and his wife Lydia live in a 94-year-old house about half a mile from the lakeshore on their farm near Langruth north of Portage la Prairie. The forage they produce on their five quarters and Crown leases provided a good living — until last year. On the wall of their porch, there’s an aerial photo of the farm taken when they were still grain producers. It shows a lush corn crop growing in a tightly managed field between the yard and the shore.

Now, the view from the seven-foot dike the government built to protect their yard site from the deluge, tells a different story.

“We ain’t going to get a crop off there — and the rest of it is all black and dead and stinks,” said Johnson, co-chair of the Lake Manitoba Flood Recovery Committee.

He said he’s satisfied with the compensation he received last year for flood damage and lost production.

“What scares the hell out of me is that they’re not talking about this year,” he said.

Living so close to Lake Manitoba was never a problem, except for “minimal” flooding during the 1950 flood, he said. In 1961, the Fairford channel, halfway up the lake on the west side, was dug and farmers were told they’d never be flooded again. But in 1971, the Portage Diversion started bringing in three times as much flow as the Fairford channel takes out.

“The Portage Diversion is the culprit,” said Johnson.

“The lake has been high since ’71,” added Lydia.

Last spring, all eyes were on the Hoop and Holler Bend south of Portage la Prairie as the province worked feverishly to spare downstream residents in Winnipeg. But that effort just turned the flood into someone else’s problem — including Tom Teichroeb, co-chair of the flood recovery committee. The water that flooded 25 quarters of his 360-head cattle operation has receded, but pockets of trapped water and saturated land means his cattle will likely stay another year on rented pastures near Plumas, and his hayfields will go uncut this summer.

“You couldn’t get enough feed in here for them, and you couldn’t find enough dry area to calve out a herd that size,” said Teichroeb. “And obviously, there’s not going to be enough grass for them this year.”

This year uncertain

Compensation flowed at a decent pace last year, leaving him and many others with “no complaints,” he said. But things seemed to freeze up beginning in December, leaving “significant odds and ends” outstanding, he said.

Appeals to the provincial government for clarification on whether compensation will be forthcoming for losses this year have gone unanswered.

“Our situation here is exactly the same as last year,” said Teichroeb. “It would really be nice to have some confirmation that we’ll have the same program as we had last year.”

Farther up the west side of the lake near Amaranth, Terry Dayholos, a rancher and councillor with the RM of Alonsa, said about 1,400 acres of land for his 275-head herd still “looks like a disaster area.”

“It’s all cattails and mud. I have some grain land there, and it’s a soup,” said Dayholos, who added that his attempts at field work on even the drier parts nearly saw his tractor swallowed by the mire.

Farther north, cattle ranches around the end of the lake, near Eddystone and Vogar, are in worse shape than his.

Dayholos said he’s still waiting on some of his 2011 compensation and hasn’t heard “a thing” about compensation for this year.

Grain farmers can get unseeded-acre coverage but the $30-per-acre payment offered for forages would hardly cover the cost of seed, spray, fuel and time. Dayholos said he won’t get on to his fields until mid-June at the earliest — meaning this year will also be a writeoff.

“That $30 just doesn’t do nothing,” said Dayholos. “By the time you get in there, you won’t get nothing that you could use.”

In an email, a spokesperson with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives said provincial officials are still in “assessment mode,” and no decision has been made on whether or not to extend last year’s programs.

“No doubt some fields will have been damaged and others may remain flooded, but overall this is a much different spring which provides producers with more options on their farms for pasture and hay,” she wrote.

“We will be assessing the ongoing impact as we move into the spring period. We will also work with producers to restore forage fields impacted by flooding in 2011.”

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