POLITICS

Saskatchewan cattlemen want drought help, Alberta counties declare disaster

07/21/2015 02:16 EDT | Updated 07/21/2016 05:59 EDT
Saskatchewan cattle producers are the latest group to call for government help to deal with a drought that has withered crops in parts of the Prairies.

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association has asked Ottawa for tax deferrals for those forced to sell cattle due to dry conditions.

President Doug Gillespie says hay yields in some parts of Saskatchewan are as much as 70 per cent below normal. Producers may be forced to sell part of their breeding herds because they don't have enough to feed them.

Gillespie said the Saskatchewan government has helped by opening up more Crown land for grazing and by changing some crop insurance rules.

The federal government could help as well, he suggested.

"We believe that implementing the livestock tax deferral provision will help ease the financial pain for producers that are selling into a depressed market for bred cows."

Things are also bad in Alberta, where counties have been declaring a state of agricultural disaster. On Tuesday, Leduc and Cypress joined Sturgeon, McKenzie and Parkland counties in seeking government help for ruined crops.

The drought in Alberta is affecting cereal and oilseeds crops and hay for livestock.

Leduc Mayor John Whaley said producers are dealing with extremely low soil moisture and in some cases with grasshopper infestations.

"By making this declaration, we are focusing attention on this issue and are encouraging other levels of government to provide support where possible," he said in a release.

Government help could include reduced rental rates for dugout water pumping, drought disaster loan programs and federal livestock tax deferrals, he suggested.

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said much of any financial help would come through insurance, so farmers and ranchers should consult their coverage providers. He said he has instructed the province's Agriculture Financial Services Corp. to be ready with extra staff to deal with an expected spike in claims.

"It's still too early to tell if anything else needs to be done. There has been some scattered moisture throughout the province," Carlier said.

"The programs in place with AFSC and with the federal government are there and available when needed."

Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said Ottawa will do what it can to help producers in parts of the Prairies that are dealing with drought.

He said the federal government will consult with the provinces before taking action.

"Of course the first and foremost line of defence in any drought or flood situation is crop insurance," he said.

Ritz said the federal government will consider allowing cattle producers to defer taxes if they have to sell off animals due to the price and availability of hay, but he said it is early yet.

Recent rain could actually serve to complicate the harvest.

Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture, told the Red Deer Advocate that the precipitation will spur fresh growth in fields from seeds that have been dormant in dry soil.

"You're going to have crop that's mature and ripe. Then you're going to have this stuff that's as green as grass," Brook said. "Trying to harvest it is going to make it difficult because it invites a storage problem. You have quality issues as well."

Carlier said he doesn't foresee a need to declare a provincewide state of agricultural emergency yet.

"It's hard to believe, talking to the ones that are hardest hit, that there are counties and districts that are doing OK — at least close to normal, maybe a little below normal, but are doing all right. They've had the moisture. It's a little bit spotty."

— With files from CHQR, Red Deer Advocate