Twelve Manitoba municipalities in the Interlake and Parkland regions have declared a state of agricultural emergency in response to a severe lack of livestock feed and pasture areas due to drought conditions.
The rural municipalities of Alonsa, Armstrong, Bifrost-Riverton, Coldwell, Ethelbert, Fisher, Grahamdale, Lakeshore, McCreary, Ste. Rose, West Interlake and Woodlands made the joint declaration at noon on Thursday.
In a release, the municipalities said livestock producers are being hit hard with the costs of buying and transporting extra feed as well as the cost of drilling wells to provide water for herds.
Compounding the problem is the fact that many producers depleted their supply of carry-over feed from last year because of dry conditions then.
Many producers are faced with the prospect of selling some or all of their herds to reduce the financial burden of feeding animals.
"Farming is a critical component of our local economies, and the impact of an agricultural disaster of this magnitude has the potential to negatively affect not only the small towns within our municipalities, but the entire provincial economy," the municipalities’ release reads.
Speaking on behalf of the affected municipalities, West Interlake Reeve Art Jonasson told The Sun that multiple municipalities have reached out to the provincial government to ask for assistance and have all received the same form letter mentioning previously existing relief programs.
"Some producers I’ve talked to only have about maybe 20 to 40 per cent of their normal feed stock going into the winter, and they’re using some of it to feed their cattle this summer, so they’re in a dire strait," Jonasson said.
Manitoba Provincial Conservative Leader Brian Pallister was asked about the declaration during his campaign announcement in Brandon on Thursday afternoon.
"I just heard that today so I can’t elaborate, but I know they’ve had a hell of a time with (the) dry summer," he told reporters at the Keystone Centre.
The municipalities are asking the provincial government to discuss activating the AgriRecovery Framework with the federal government. AgriRecovery is a business risk-management tool that provinces, territories and the federal government can use to provide relief to agricultural producers affected by emergencies.
A province or territory must request that a disaster event be initiated for the process to start.
The municipalities are also asking to meet with the provincial government to discuss the shortcomings of currently existing business risk-management programs.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities is aware of the situation and will be talking to the government about what they can do on the afflicted municipalities’ behalf, executive director Joe Masi told the Sun.
Carson Callum, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers, said his organization has been in contact with communities affected by drought since before the declaration.
"In some of these hard-hit areas, it might be an option to help these producers out," Callum said about the AgriRecovery Framework. He added that modifying existing business risk-management tools might be beneficial to producers in this scenario.
Manitoba Forage & Grassland Association executive director Duncan Morrison said he encourages producers needing help to check the hay relief section on their website mfga.net/hay-relief.
He said his organization’s role will mostly be to provide information to producers.
Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell said the declaration will bring awareness to how significant the problem is. Campbell said he hopes various levels of government will provide bridge financing so that producers can feed their livestock.
With the upcoming provincial election complicating governmental affairs, Jonasson hopes something can be done before the Sept. 10 voting day.
"I don’t think we can wait that long," Jonasson said. "I think we need to have some indication as to what’s going on."
» email@example.com, with files from Drew May
» Twitter: @ColinSlark