By Trevor Busch
The provincial government is taking steps to ensure agriculture producers dealing with dry conditions have resources to feed and water livestock and assist with growing conditions.
“I’m quite familiar with the adverse, dry drought conditions we are facing, and I know how difficult and stressful times like these can be on our close-knit agricultural community,” said Oneil Carlier, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, during a press conference earlier this month. “Since coming to this job a little over two months ago, I’ve been reaching out to farmers, municipal leaders, and industry representatives to hear directly about how conditions have been impacting them.”
Rental fees have been cut in half for Agriculture and Forestry’s Water Pumping Program. The program provides pumps and pipes to help producers get water for domestic and livestock use by filling their dugouts or other suitable catch basins from nearby water sources.
“We are cutting fees to use Alberta Agriculture’s Emergency Water Pumping program in half. This program helps farmers pump water from lakes, rivers and other water resources to provide water for their livestock and for other uses,” said Carlier.
The emergency water-pumping program provides assistance to between 400 and 1,400 clients every year. The fee reduction will apply to anyone who uses the program in the 2015-16 fiscal year and will be retroactive to April 1.
“There’s no doubt that an early snow melt, dry spring, and recent hail storms have taken a toll, while significant rainfall in July has provided some relief to some portions of the province, we know that areas of the province remain very dry, and many producers are still struggling,” said Carlier.
Environment and Parks is also working with municipalities to identify additional public lands for grazing purposes to help increase producers’ access to livestock feed supplies. The measures will allow temporary grazing or haying permits in suitable locations.
“I’ve been working with Environment Minister Phillips to identify any grazing opportunities on vacant and under-utilized Crown land,” said Carlier. “Environment and Parks have been considering and approving applications for access to appropriate Crown lands, and authorizing sub-leases in cases where the lease holder isn’t fully utilizing the land. This will help producers struggling with inadequate pasture and high hay prices.”
In addition to these programs, a full suite of insurance and business risk management programs is available through Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC).
“These conditions have activated a significant suite of agricultural insurance and business risk management programs that were designed to help producers in difficult times like these,” said Carlier. “Crop insurance continues to be an important first line of defence. Approximately $70 million in claims have already been processed and paid out through the Agricultural Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) this year.”
Provincially, 78 per cent of crops and 29 per cent of pasture acreage has been insured in 2015. For multi-peril crop insurance alone, AFSC estimates this year’s claim payments to range from approximately $700 million to $900 million. Producers also have access to approximately $541 million currently deposited in their AgriInvest accounts.
“I’ve been working closely with AFSC to ensure they have the resources in place to respond to farmers quickly,” said Carlier. “I know that their front-line staff are working overtime and weekends to process claims as quickly as they can. Based on current conditions, we expect to pay $700 to $900 million in direct support to farmers through these insurance programs by the time the growing season is complete. Producers are also carrying a collective balance of $541 million through the AgriInvest Program, which can be accessed any time for any reason.”
“This program allows farmers to invest up to $15,000 per year to receive matching funds from the provincial and federal governments.”
The province continues to work with the federal government to ensure that tax deferrals are available for livestock producers in affected municipalities. Those who need to sell livestock because of feed shortages can defer a portion of their 2015 sale proceeds of breeding livestock for one year to help offset the cost of replenishing that stock in the following year.
“We have been working with the federal government to ensure that livestock producers in affected communities qualify for tax deferrals if they need to sell off part of their herds, and we welcome the recent federal government announcement on this,” said Carlier.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry has a number of online resources at http://www.agriculture.alberta.ca to assist producers with decision making, including crop and moisture reports, planning information for dry conditions and a hay and pasture directory.
“Although cattle auction volumes, primarily due to yearlings coming off grass early, have been above average for the past eight to nine weeks, we have not seen a large sell-off of cattle at this point,” said Carlier. “Year to date sales volumes are still below last year at this time, and also below the three-year average. We’ll have a better idea of the effect on cattle herd numbers later in the fall, when producers have the chance to assess their winter feed supply situation. We’ll continue monitoring the situation on the ground to determine if action is required in additional communities.”