Minister visits stricken farms 0
WHITEWATER REGION – In the face of one of the worst droughts in decades, some relief may be in sight for Renfrew County farmers.
During a visit Tuesday afternoon to Maple Lane Farms on Breen Line, ironically during one of this year’s rare cloudbursts, Ted McMeekin, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said he has formally asked the federal government to conduct an assessment under the AgriRecovery program for disaster relief.
Ottawa has 45 days to conduct that assessment.
The minister also asked the federal government for tax relief to those livestock producers in areas identified as Prescribed Drought Regions, which are those considered to be most affected by the drought, and approached Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to help the province assess support options for livestock producers.
However, there will be no new money from Ontario to help farmers hit hard by the drought; instead, they are encouraging the use of existing assistance and insurance programs, while trying to speed up the processing time. If the federal government declares the region a disaster area, that will also accelerate the process.
“We’re doing what we can to ensure the money gets to farmers,” Minister McMeekin said, explaining extra staff have been brought in to help process the claims as quickly as possible.
If things get worse, the minister assured everyone if a Level 3 drought is declared, which would restrict the use of water, livestock would be the priority for watering, second only to people.
“We’re all in this together,” he emphasized.
McMeekin added he is working closely with other provincial ministries, groups, municipalities and the federal government as they all try to come to grips with the crisis.
Dan Darling, president of the Ontario Cattlemen Association, praised Minister McMeekin for standing behind the agriculture community, acting as a true partner with them during this crisis. He said while the government assistance is needed, they have their part to play in this, too, including getting adequate insurance to cover such losses.
Henry Van Ankum, chairman of the Grain Farmers of Ontario, said they are all aware of the drought conditions plaguing the eastern region, noting it has been a good first step in helping the agricultural producers.
“There’s still going to be significant hurt here, but this is getting the wheels in motion,” he said.
Minister McMeekin spent the day touring Eastern Ontario, seeing first-hand the impact of the ongoing dry weather. He said everywhere he went, he has seen how stressed everything is, from crops to cattle.
On a tour of Maple Lane Farms, he examined the remains of corn planted by the Raddatz family. Like other areas across the region, their crop has been baked nearly out of existence by the constant heat and lack of moisture.
“This is beyond distressed,” Minister McMeekin said as he held shriveled plants which should have been cobs of corn by now if the rains had come as usual. “There’s no crop here.”
Ron Raddatz, who with his wife Tracy was hosting the minister and his entourage at Maple Lane Farms, said in the more than 30 years he has been farming, he never seen it as dry as it has been this year. Out of his 600 acres of corn, he estimates perhaps 25 per cent of it may have a chance if the weather becomes wetter, but the rest is a write-off.
“I don’t know what percentage we can use for feed,” he said, as much of the plants may be unsuitable to feed to his cattle. This compounds problems which range from the high cost and scarcity of feed, to the lack of water on his land.
Mr. Raddatz said a creek which runs across a pasture he uses has dried up twice, forcing him to dig down to find water. He said unless things turn around soon, he’s looking at selling half his herd as he won‘t be able to afford to feed them.
On the federal side, Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant has been touring her constituency, inspecting the damage caused by the lack of rain. Even the storms which moved through the region haven’t provided enough rain to turn things around.
She said now that the province has triggered the AgriRecovery protocol, the stage is being set for the federal government to be able to lend assistance once it has evaluated the situation.
“Once in place, this would cover the cost of transporting hay, or the cost of moving cattle to other pastures,” the MP said, anything to help area farmers get by, and most importantly not give up their livestock.
She said there is a real fear Renfrew County will lose something priceless if area farmers lose their animals – the generations of specific genes created by a lifetime of breeding which make the livestock perfectly adapted to the Ottawa Valley.
“We have prize-winning breeding animals here,” MP Gallant said, “and it would be a tragedy to see them sold off for meat because their owners can’t afford to feed them.”
Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist