THUNDER BAY — Northwestern Ontario farmers are in crisis as they watch their crops deteriorate in the severe drought conditions. Above-seasonal temperatures and lack of rainfall across Western Canada is causing farmers to turn to extremes to keep cattle watered and fed.
On Tuesday, the Ontario government announced $2 million in relief through the Northwestern Livestock Emergency Assistance Initiative after farmers expressed serious concerns and illustrated the severity of the crisis during an industry roundtable last week.
The funds will support farmers to ensure they have the resources they need to maintain their livelihoods.
The investment designated $1.2 million for water and fencing infrastructure and up to $800,000 to Beef Farmers of Ontario to handle the delivery, distribution, and sourcing of feed for livestock.
The emergency situation caused by crops burning off, pastures drying out, and minimal access to water has resulted in the selloff of livestock.
Peggy Brekveld, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) and a local dairy farmer at Murillo’s Woodstar Dairy Farm, expressed her appreciation and relief for the government’s “swift action” to provide necessary support to farmers.
Brekveld is facing her own crop devastation and water shortage on her farm.
“So far, our wells are keeping up but we do know there are people who are hauling water,” she said. “Our cows normally can get water from our creek but that creek has dried up, so we are now feeding them out of our wells.”
Brekveld said their first cut of silage has been done but their second cut is very thin.
“We are concerned about our corn that we grow for our cattle feed that will not make cobs because it has been so dry,” she said. They call it “pineappling.” The plants start to look like pineapple tops when they are extremely dry.
Brekveld says they are already making decisions to change out cropping because of this. What would be wheat grain that they would sell to Richardson’s elevator as an export crop, is likely going to become wheat silage, chopped before maturity and used as cow feed instead. This will affect Brekveld’s revenue, “but our cattle will come first,” she said.
With all the drought trouble felt in the immediate Thunder Bay farming community, it’s still not as dire as it is in Rainy River, which is experiencing the worst of this drought. In Rainy River, Dryden, Fort Frances and Kenora, their crops are dying in the fields, says Brekveld.
“They’re trying to salvage crops by letting cattle graze on it because there is nothing left. Because of the drought, they have seen pests rise and they have been invaded by grasshoppers,” she said. “They couldn’t even get a first cut of hay and they are desperate for feed. They have farmers there who have been selling half of their cattle who are quite convinced they won’t get any crop.”
Brekveld says she has seen droughts in the past but she has never seen it so dry that you don’t get any crop.
She said the provincial funding is welcome relief for area farmers, their businesses and their mental health, in giving them peace of mind that help is on the way.
Sandi Krasowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle-Journal