With harvest finished, PRRD to look for farm supports after 'dismal year'

Peace River Regional District directors will be asked this week to advocate for more supports for area farmers after a “dismal year” for agriculture.

Electoral area director Karen Goodings will raise the issue with her colleagues at a board meeting on Thursday. It comes after the County of Grande Prairie declared an agricultural disaster earlier this month because of cold, wet weather that hampered this production and harvest in the Alberta Peace.

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“Local farmers have been impacted by the same unfavorable weather conditions,” Goodings writes in a report to the board.

“With excessive rain fall above the average for the region, combined with early snowfall, many crops remain on farmers’ fields. Hay is in short supply in the region, which will result in increased costs for local producers and farmers.”

Average temperatures in the Fort St. John area were nearly a full degree below average this summer, at 14.3 C. The airport weather station recorded 224 millimetres of rain over the summer too, up from a three-month average of 192 millimetres.

The County of Grande Prairie declared the disaster to raise attention to devastating production conditions, and request more support for producers, Goodings noted.

“Our agriculture producers are facing a very tough year end,” Goodings said last week.

“The crops that have been taken off are needing to be dried. Hay production would have been great but very little hay was put up dry. Some were able to silage but not everyone.”

Harvests throughout the region are variable, the ministry of agriculture said, and producers faced “significant challenges” getting equipment onto saturated fields and wet crops off the field.

Canola for the most part has been swathed and harvest will take place in the spring, the ministry said. The majority of cereal crops, meanwhile, have been downgraded in quality as result of late maturity, moisture, and early frost. A large portion went unswathed and at risk of higher over-winter losses, the ministry said.

Wade Cusack, a Pineview farmer and president of the North Pine Farmers Institute, called this year one of the more challenging seasons he’s seen.

“It kept raining and raining and raining — it wouldn’t give us a break,” Cusack said.

Farmers usually get a two-week window of good fall harvest weather — this year, the longest stretch was about four days, he said.

The wet fall harvest, coupled with overwintering crops until spring brings challenges and increased costs to farmers, Cusack said.

“Everything came off really really wet, so that’s presenting challenges for people who don’t have facilities to dry grain. There’s a lot of added costs because of that,” Cusack said.

“The harvest in the spring presents a lot of challenges too. There’s a lot of quality loss, there’s quantity loss, and just the overlap of the previous year’s harvest into the spring presents a lot of challenges to get the next crops in.”

Production insurance and income protection is available to farmers with over-winter losses on unharvested crops and increased costs, the ministry said.

More than 80% of the grain and canola acres in the B.C. Peace are enrolled in those programs, though no insurance claims have been finalized, the ministry said.

Insurance payments will recognize reductions in grain and canola grades as a result of weather perils, the ministry said.

Cusack estimated the region’s harvest to be sitting between 50 to 70%, depending on the area. He was sitting at about 80% of his 4,500 acres.

The answer to success next season is a million dollar question, Cusack said, and the challenges ahead could compound.

“There’s a lot of things hinging on global markets, federal government issues that have affected agriculture in a big way, affected our markets, the movement of our products,” he said.

“We’re facing quality issues because of this fall, all these harvest challenges, then on top of it we’re faced with a fairly dramatic decrease in commodity prices. It’s going to one of the more challenging years in agriculture that we've seen in a number of years.

“Farmers are pretty resilient, so they tend to find a way around it. But it’s something I would hope the minister of agriculture, provincially and federally, looks at to see if there are ways that farmers can be supported. There’s definitely going to be some major impacts.” 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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