Todd Lewis welcomes provincial support, says producers continue to struggle with drought

July 28, 2021, 9:32 am
Spencer Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

APAS president Todd Lewis says the drought situation looks bleak for some producers

Historic dry conditions across Saskatchewan have prompted the Government of Saskatchewan to enhance support for ag producers.

Under the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program (FRWIP) producers can receive funding for 50 per cent of costs related to dugouts, pipelines, and wells to a maximum rebate of $50,000. FRWIP funding has been expanded to cover an additional $100,000 at a 70-30 government-producer cost share. The initial $50,000 will remain at a 50-50 cost-share.

Producers can also access a portion of their AgriStability benefit early, and producers enrolled in the program can access 50 per cent of their estimated final benefit.

Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) is doubling the Low Yield Appraisal threshold values for customers who salvage their cereal or pulse crops as feed for livestock.

The Government of Saskatchewan has also called on the federal government to designate the entire province as eligible through the Livestock Tax Deferral program to aid producers who have had to liquidate part of their breeding herd due to the drought conditions.

Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) president Todd Lewis says that these measures provide an effective short-term solution to some of the issues brought forward by the drought.

“We’re hearing that it’s practical and helpful in the short-term and the crop insurance changes are practical and will prove useful for producers for both livestock and grain producers to be able to salvage at least some value out of those crops before they literally dry up, if they can get some of that crop baled up while the heat continues with no rain. They’re deteriorating every day.

“We’re hearing that producers are happy with that,” said Lewis, noting that cattle producers in Saskatchewan were suffering due to a lack of feed brought on by the drought.

“Of course feed is very expensive now and for those producers looking for feed there is a shortage and because of supply and demand, even the salvaged crop is worth quite a bit of money. Cattle producers are still in trouble with feed being in such short supply. There are financial concerns out there and as the drought unfolds and as we get into the fall and winter months a lot of cattle producers will be facing difficulties with not having winter feed. The goal of everything we’re trying to do now is that as many cattle as possible can stay on Saskatchewan pastures and ranches this fall and through the winter so we don’t have too big of an impact on the overall herd next year. These measures are helpful, but there could always be more.”

While the new measures have only recently been introduced, Lewis says that producers across Saskatchewan are already taking advantage of its benefits.

“Producers are pretty adaptable and uptake on a program like this will happen fairly quickly. I’ve heard of producers already using these options. The government can’t make it rain but there are a lot of things they can do to help in this situation. These are just the short-term measures that have been taken now and as this drought unfolds there will be other opportunities for the government to lend a hand in other ways as well,” said Lewis.

While the Government of Saskatchewan’s enhanced supports eases some of the stress placed on producers, Lewis says there are still many obstacles to overcome noting that pests are becoming a problem for stunted crops.

“The pest situation, be it flea beetles or grasshoppers, in a lot of ways is related to the drought. If you have a healthy growing crop with grasshoppers or flea beetles eating at it versus a crop that is stunted and has gone almost into dormancy are two totally different things. It affects the yield and the damage that can be inflicted by these pests. The dry weather helps the hatched grasshoppers too, the survival rate for them is much better if the conditions are drier. So it’s all related and pests have been an issue and we’re hearing more and more that producers are having to go out to what little crop they have left and spray them down because they’re suffering from not only the heat stress but also the pest stress as well. It is an issue and it’s all related to the drought. Some of these things can be dealt with, like insecticide for grasshoppers, but Mother Nature is the best thing to control all of this. But we’re just not getting much co-operation from her right now.”

With a lack of feed due to the drought, some producers have begun to sell breeding cattle to help keep costs down.

Lewis says that while this is necessary for some producers to avoid financial ruin, it impacts future herds down the road.

“The auction marts have sales this time of year and there’s a number of fall cattle runs happening earlier this year, and it’s actually a summer cattle run in some instances. There’s an oversupply of cattle on the market and it’s affected prices and more cattle are being sold that are part of the breeding stock. Years and years of genetics and building up herds are all at risk and if those cattle go to market they won’t be producing calves next spring and in the next year and it’ll have an impact on the Saskatchewan cattle industry. That’s why it’s so important to give cattle producers help and support right now just to maintain herds. It’s a long-term question now if we’re going to have not only the number of producers remaining after a crisis like this but also how many cattle are left in the system as well,” said Lewis.

Additional long-term impacts of the drought include impacts on the economy as Lewis says there will be lower exports this year and producers will not be spending as much money.

“When farmers have money in their pocket they spend it and when they don’t they quickly reign in their spending, which affects everything from truck sales to new equipment sales. The railroad is going to see a drop in business, there’s not going to be nearly as much grain to export. It’ll also affect the Canadian economy and our balance of trade. It’s important to remember that one in eight jobs in Canada come from agriculture and a lot of agriculture is based in Western Canada. It’s a ripple effect right across the entire economy, especially here in Saskatchewan. We’ll see less consumer spending by producers and it’ll have an effect right across the whole economy,” said Lewis.

Lewis says that some areas across the province have been impacted more than others, but says the entire province is feeling the impacts of the ongoing, historical drought.

“There are pockets where some crops are better, but with the past heat wave everything was under stress and we lost yield across the province. Generally speaking, the South and East of Regina are doing better than the rest of the province.

“This is one of the most widespread drought situations we’ve had this century, even going back to years like 1988 and it most certainly is a historical drought when compared to years like 1961 and 1988. This one is particularly bad when you look at the length of it and the number of acres affected.”

Even with enhanced supports in place, Lewis says that it is too late for some producers. He says that the dry conditions will lead to reduced yield and says that it is producers could see as little as 50 per cent yield through harvest.

“Sadly in a lot of cases the die has already been cast, a lot of crop is lost and there are places in the province where the combine won’t be coming out of the shed because the crop is just that poor. We’re going to have reduced yields and our best guess is that everywhere we’re going to be 25 per cent light on the crop and the concept of having only 50 per cent of the crop is on the table so it’s a situation that hasn’t happened in many years but there are programs like crop insurance which will certainly be utilized this year. Producers have invested in crop insurance and that’s why they carry it, so we’ll see some payouts and AgriStability payouts as well. But it’s going to take more than one year to get out of some of the holes that are being dug with the lack of yields and certainly on the livestock side where things are looking pretty bleak in some areas,” said Lewis.