Relief money is coming soon, but the pain will be long lasting

Producers here are to receive $340 million, but many say it won’t be enough

There’s some green now, but pastures at their farm near Del Bonita — like virtually everywhere — have been hit extremely hard this year, says Sheila Hillmer, pictured with son Keeley.
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The first drought relief payment of $94 per head should be in the hands of cattle producers soon.

Alberta Beef Producers has been working with the provincial crop insurer to get the drought relief money out as quickly as possible, said general manager Brad Dubeau.

“We’re continuing to work with Agriculture Financial Services Corporation very, very closely,” said Dubeau, adding the organization will hold an online town hall as soon as details on the application process are available.

“We are working as hard as we can to act as fast as we can to get a program that works for as many producers as possible.”

And many will badly need the cash because the drought and summer heat wave were so extreme, said Sheila Hillmer, who farms with her family near Del Bonita near the U.S. border.

“I’ve never seen it when all areas of all western provinces are so severely affected by drought, as well as the northern United States,” she said. “We’ve always been lucky to have some areas of the province do better, so we can always find feed and keep our cow-calf and feedlot operation healthy.”

Not only is feed scarce, but the price is very high and the expense of bringing it in, will be hugely costly. Many in the cattle sector are saying the $340 million in AgriRecovery money slated for Alberta — which works out to $200 per breeding female — won’t cover all those extra feed costs.

The process

Producers should be able to apply for money online in early September, Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) said just before this edition of the paper was going to press. The insurer is handling the Alberta portion of the emergency program (officially called the 2021 Canada-Alberta Livestock Feed Assistance Initiative) — which is cost shared on a 60:40 basis by the federal and provincial governments.

AFSC said producers should document inventories of breeding females as of Aug. 6 and keep records of any drought-related feed expenditures until Dec. 31. While the first $94 of the $200-per-head payment is being expedited, it’s not clear what sort of documentation will be required for the second $106-per-head portion.

“I can’t speak as to how the secondary payment will flow, but in terms of record-keeping, it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared,” said Jason Turner, manager of lending and AgriStability with AFSC.

The discussions on the criteria and rules are being closely watched by his organization, said Dubeau.

“We are closely talking with AFSC, that is in constant contact with the feds on the development of the second portion of the program — the $106,” he said.

Meanwhile, AFSC was urging producers who are current clients to make sure they have an “AFSC Connect” account set up and that direct deposit is enabled on that account. Those who are not current clients will need to sign up for an AFSC Connect account.

Other livestock are also covered, but at different rates. Bison are eligible for the full $200 per breeding female, but sheep and goats are rated at .02, so they are eligible for $40 a head.

What’s next

Producers are culling marginal cows and while cull prices have dipped a little, it hasn’t been as bad here as in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (which have some of the most severely drought-stricken areas), said Dubeau.

But the big fear is that many will have no choice but to sell good breeding stock, even at depressed prices — and that they will either exit the cattle sector or be faced with huge costs next year when they try to buy replacements.

Virtually every producer is affected and under pressure, said Hillmer.

“This is one of the largest crises I’ve ever seen, as far as accessing good-quality feed and being able to retain the breeding herd,” she said. “Right now, we’re all trying to figure out what kind of feed we can access at what type of affordability.”

Drought is common in her area but this summer was something different, she said.

“Our operation received hail about July 10 and nothing grew back. It was already heat stressed, and for the first time, nothing grew back. I’ve never seen that before.”

Rains last month had pastures greening up, but Hillmer won’t put cattle back on them because those pastures were already grazed more than what would normally have been allowed. Her family’s operation is looking at six to nine months of feeding because the drought was so severe.

Keeping young people in the beef sector is going to be a challenge, said Hillmer who, along with her husband, is in the process of transitioning their farm to their sons.

Producers aren’t happy about needing government assistance, she added.

“We are a proud bunch and we try to make sure we can manage through it.”


For more content related to drought management visit The Dry Times, where you can find a collection of stories from our family of publications as well as links to external resources to support your decisions through these difficult times.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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