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MD declares state of disaster

After several months of sitting on the fence the Municipal District of Bonnyville has finally decided to declare a state of agricultural disaster.
Dought like conditions have forced municipal officials to declare a state of agricultural disaster.
Dought like conditions have forced municipal officials to declare a state of agricultural disaster.

After several months of sitting on the fence the Municipal District of Bonnyville has finally decided to declare a state of agricultural disaster.

“For the hay and livestock operations it is a disaster,” said Reeve Ed Rondeau, at a special council meeting on Aug 11. “It is not so much the grain crops, there are some good grain crops and some mediocre grain crops. I think this it is more of a hay and pasture land issue. We didn't have the rain at the very beginning (of the season) and then the grasshoppers decided to clean up the rest.”

Over the course of the first 100 days of the growing season, from April 1 to the middle of July, the MD received between 75 and 100 millimetres of rain. On average the region usually receives approximately 200 millimetres of rain over that same period of time.

“The pasture land and crops have been devastated by these conditions,” said Matt Janz, the MD's Director of Agriculture and Waste.

By declaring a state of agricultural disaster the municipality joins a growing list of over 20 other municipalities across the province that have already waved the white flag.

Together these groups have been able to get the attention of provincial officials such as Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

On top of declaring disaster, the MD will write a letter to Carlier focusing on how conditions have hammered the hay and livestock producers in the region.

“We know there is an urgent need for something to be done,” said Rondeau. “Making this declaration helps identify that our area has a problem when it comes to livestock operations – that problem being a lack of food and water.”

Carlier has already received many letters from municipalities across the province raising awareness for what sort of issues farmers and producers have been subject to.

“It's clear that many producers are facing challenges because of the dry conditions this year, and that's why we are finding common sense ways to help out farmers during these difficult times,” said Carlier.

Both the federal and provincial governments have taken steps to help mitigate the situation seen across western Canada. There is a tax deferral program, which producers in the MD are eligible for. Farmers can sell their stock and not claim the income until the next tax year.

Alberta Environment and Parks have also recently started to open up provincial land for the purpose of grazing to help producers feed their livestock.

“We are committed to supporting farmers during this challenging year,” said Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks. “Identifying more access to vacant public land for grazing is a practical way to help out farmers who are struggling with the high cost of feeding their livestock.”

The decision to declare a state of agricultural disaster was not taken lightly by MD officials as several meetings were held in advance of the move.

Janz and the rest of the local agricultural service board met on July 30 to discuss the conditions plaguing the region and what they should do about it.

After what Janz referred to as a lengthy discussion, the local board wasn't quite convinced the region should declare the disastrous state.

“We've had quite a bit of rain over the past few weeks and that has really helped us out,” said Janz.

He added, “The (agriculture service board) isn't saying not to declare, but they had a hard time saying it is a complete and utter disaster.”

MD Councilors weren't as hesitant about declaring a state of agricultural disaster, with most councilors on board with the idea right from the start of discussions at their special Aug. 11 council meeting.

Coun. David Fox was the first to come out and support the idea, feeling that the MD had nothing to lose by declaring the state of disaster.

“It doesn't cost us anything,” said Fox. “I personally think we should go ahead and do it.”

Coun. Don Sinclair sided with Fox feeling that the region has seen harsh enough conditions to warrant calling a state of disaster.

Along with drought-like conditions that plagued the region during the first few months of summer, an infestation of grasshoppers has hit the area. Janz estimated roughly 15 grasshoppers per square metre in the municipality.

“I think we should support this for the farmers that need the help,” added Coun. Mike Krywiak.




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