Big Lakes declares disaster

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Water still lies in fields in the Gilwood area southwest of High Prairie despite no rainfall in about a week. Many fields were too wet to seed this spring.

Sopping, soaking soggy soil has led Big Lakes County to declare a municipal agricultural disaster for all farmers.

At its regular meeting June 24, council declared the disaster as recommended by Brett Hawken, acting director of community and protective services.

The majority of Big Lakes County is under conditions of “wettest” in a survey for spring wheat soil moisture reserves relative to long-term normal to a depth of 120 cm, says a crop reporting survey for the Peace region from the Agriculture Finance Services Corporation [AFSC] dated June 9, Hawken states in a report.

Big Lakes falls under the conditions of “wettest” which happens less than once every 50 years and “extremely high”, which is once in every 25-50 years.

The Peace region had a 40 per cent emergence for spring-seeded crops, 39 percent behind the five-year average.

One farmer on council echoes the call.

“It’s the wettest I’ve seen it and the least amount of seed that’s been planted in spring,” Prairie Echo – Salt Prairie Councillor David Marx.

The only farmer on council, he has owned and operated and cattle and grain in Prairie Echo north of High Prairie since 1979.

“Declaring a agricultural disaster is a good thing,” Marx says.

“Hopefully, the government will see that it is a disaster; hopefully, we will be eligible for some funding programs.”

However, Hawken says funding is not assured in an area declared a disaster.

“Declaring a disaster doesn’t guarantee any money,” Hawken says.

“It brings the issue forward to the provincial government, AFSC and the RMA.”

The purpose and role of a declaration are clarified by the Rural Municipalities of Alberta [RMA] in A Guide for Declaring Municipal Agricultural Disasters in Alberta.

“Municipal declarations bring awareness to an issue in a specific area of the province, but they do not trigger a provincial declaration or access to any funding to support the issue,” the report states.

Municipalities can work with their local agriculture industries or industry and producer organizations to communicate concerns and assess challenges being experienced.”

The county agricultural department noted they have seen standing water on many fields, Hawken reports.

As well, the cutoff dates for farmers to plant crop in order to qualify for crop insurance was June 5 for canola, wheat, oats, flax, mixed grains and June 15 for spring rye and barley.

Based on what the agricultural department has seen from inspections, they estimate about 50 per cent of crops have been seeded by June 17.

“Since farmers will no longer have insurance on planting new crop, we estimate that number of 50 per cent will not increase substantially,’ Hawken says.

He adds the AFSC report notes that spring-seed cereals are in the late germination stage which means that they are blooming late, pushing back harvest dates for farmers.

“This then increases the chance of a similar situation like 2019, where if you get poor harvest conditions, crop will have to be left on the field and harvested the following year in 2021,” Hawken says.

Excessive moisture is an issue in a large part of the Peace region and northern Alberta, the AFSC report states.

Swaths still lie in some fields near High Prairie, despite the late June calendar date. Last year’s harvest is not complete, and new seeding a thought miles away, as some farmers struggle with wet weather.

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