DELEAU — The grass looks yellow and dry on the sides of the road on the way to Deleau.
Deleau means "some water" in French. Driving down Highway 21, dried earth where water once was sits cracked and veiny.
Some water would be better than none.
As the wind dances across the fields, yellow and dried wheat waves at passersby.
It isn’t the fall, and yet the wheat’s golden colour misleads the unseasoned eye into believing it is.
In 2011, fourth-generation farmer Ian Robson recalls the floods that cut off access to his house from the main road.
Robson has farmed all his life. He has seen ups and downs. His farm is still recovering from the floods of 2011 and 2014.
For Robson, relying on years of experience and anticipating the future is always the challenge. This past year, he anticipated low rainfall and planned to plant peas and oats to supplement feed for his 45 head of cattle this winter. That took planning and a bit of crystal ball gazing because farming isn’t an exact science.
There is always a wild card.
Robson has dugouts to provide water for the cattle. But this year, they sit precariously low. The cattle have been coming to the well for water, he said.
And his dugouts have a third of water in them, roughly. Robson also grows wheat and canola on his 900-acre farm.
Feeding the cattle winter stores of straw and protein pellets as supplements now to offset the hay shortage the drought has created pushes Robson to order grain as the price continues to climb. He’s looking at planning ahead and planning for that rainy day (hopefully).
"You have to have a backup plan," he said "Plan A, B, C, D, E …"
Robson demonstrates how dry the earth is by digging down at least six inches into the arid ground. As he digs with his pocket knife, dust catches the wind and drifts away.
"There’s still some moisture in the roots," he said.
But in another week, it will go from bad to worse if there isn’t any rain, he points out.
This year’s drought is definitely a low point for farmers in southern and central Manitoba. Drought, extreme heat, sparse rainfall and insect infestations have devastated a precarious industry that relies on the delicate balance of nature to yield a productive year, whether it be crops or livestock.
On Thursday, the provincial and federal governments committed to helping struggling Manitoba farmers with relief programs.
For cattle producers in the province, selling off cattle that has taken years to build into healthy herds has been devastating.
Federal Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Ralph Eichler collectively announced relief for farmers is on the way.
"Our government is working around the clock with the provinces to help farm families coping with extreme weather conditions exacerbated by climate change," Bibeau said. "The support through the Hay Disaster Benefit is one way we are helping Manitoba producers, who are under tremendous stress, to get through this crisis and toward a sustainable future."
The first of the initiatives, available through Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s Hay Disaster Benefit, will provide an additional $44/tonne (for every tonne below coverage) to insured forage producers to help offset the additional cost of replacement feed and transportation due to the severe shortage of forage throughout the province.
The benefit was last triggered in 2019, when more than $5 million was paid on close to 1,200 claims.
Typically, the determination of payments for this benefit would not be made until January, once the majority of claim and harvested production report data is processed.
"We recognize that this has been an extremely difficult year for many producers with the lack of precipitation and extreme heat," Eichler said. "With pastures drying up and minimal sources of feed for livestock, it’s important to give producers the resources they need to secure feed to maintain their herds. All livestock producers play a critical role in our food supply and provincial economy. We’re proud to support them with early release of this benefit."
MASC is also applying a quality adjustment factor to appraisals on crops that are being put to alternate use under the AgriInsurance program.
A 60 per cent adjustment factor to in-field appraisals will be applied on small grain cereal crops (all varieties of wheat, oats, fall rye, barley and triticale). Reducing the appraisal of claims by 40 per cent reflects the expected reduction in quality resulting from the drought conditions.
The full yield appraisal will be used to calculate future coverage, which provides producers who repurpose their crops for livestock feed an added benefit. This reduction will apply retroactively to producers who have already put their cereal crop to an alternate use this year.
Under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, AgriInsurance premiums for most programs are shared 40 per cent by participating producers, 36 per cent by the Government of Canada and 24 per cent by the Manitoba government. Administrative expenses are paid 60 per cent by Canada and 40 per cent by Manitoba.
Discussions are also underway to expedite the completion of the AgriRecovery Assessment process and the implementation of a Livestock Tax Deferral to assist impacted livestock producers.
Robson has lived on the farm all his life. He can’t think of doing anything else. During this drought, it has been difficult to help neighbours because everyone is suffering. Robson’s wife, Lois, points out that many farmers in the area have spouses who work second jobs to help make ends meet.
"We need assistance for people suffering, especially for cattle people," Robson said.
For Robson, part of the water shortage solution was the well he dug for the cows.
"You gotta have a well."
It’s going to be tough on Robson and his neighbours this year.
He recalls a saying his father used to say: "Every day without rain is one day closer to rain."
"I read a Buddhist saying the other day. Prepare for failure and be pleasantly surprised," he said.
Robson watches the weather religiously, willing the weather to change to rain.
But in the meantime, Robson and his neighbours are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for rain.