Majority of Manitoba cattle producers in dire straits because of drought

Due to the extremely dry conditions, grain, hay, and straw many Manitoba cattle producers are facing severely reduced crop yields, poor to no pastures, and drying up water dugouts. [Pictures by Arnthor Jonasson, Reeve of RM of West Interlake and a cattle producer.] 
Audio interview with Arnthor Jonasson.

By Harry Siemens 

Twelve RMs in the Interlake and Parklands regions, declared a state of agricultural emergency after dry weather has left producers unable to produce enough hay to feed their cattle. 

The RMs include Alonsa, Armstrong, Bifrost0Riverton, Coldwell, Ethelbert, Fisher, Grahamdale, Lakeshore, McCreary, Ste. Rose, West Interlake and Woodlands.

The statement from the RM’s said the lack of volume and frequency of precipitation in 2019 had caused considerable damage to the agriculture industry within the Interlake and Parkland regions. Due to the extremely dry conditions, grain, hay, and straw producers are facing severely reduced crop yields also adversely affecting pastures throughout the growing season. A depleted inventory of carryover feed in 2018 due to dry conditions last summer and the long, cold winter compounded this severe feed shortage. 

Arnthor Jonasson, Reeve of the RM of West Interlake said the situation is so dire that waiting to solve this until after the provincial election is too late. 

“When you look at it… they’ve been asking, ‘Can it wait till after the election?’ And you go holy cow, another ten days, another two weeks. And then the government has to form and then it’s too late,” said Jonasson. “We sent the resolution to the Department of Ag about a month ago, received a letter outlining all the programs that are available to the producers. And these producers already know that. They know what programs are available, but they don’t seem to work for cattle producers.”

He said what the provincial government failed to mention there is an agro recovery program, but the province has to initiate and access it from the federal government. 

“I look at our situation here, and ours would fit completely into that agro recovery,” said the frustrated cattle producer and RM reeve. 

While recognizing the election process, they’re trying to get the attention of the government and want a response because of this severe emergency. 

“But I think that this is very time-sensitive and coming to a big crunch here. And I don’t know if we can wait until after the election,” said Jonasson. “Well, if the legislature were burning, they’d certainly call the fire department.”

Why the help is critical and time-sensitive has to do with the younger producers selling off the livelihood and in some cases their entire cowherd.  

“Yes. Ashern Auction Mart, the Interlake Cattleman’s Co-Op opened up two weeks ago. They sold about 320 cows on the first sale, and last week’s sale had 240 or 250 cows and a lot of bulls. Everyone’s clearing up any animal that they can. They’re moving right now,” said the reeve. 

What happens when a cattle producer sells off his cattle? It’s like a grain farmer who finally sells his last quarter to pay off some debt – he is not a farmer anymore

“That’s right. That is right. It will take years to rebuild the herd because the guys selling are the young producers in the industry, and they’re the guys we’re trying to encourage to stay. It’s very tough to keep them in the industry if they have to sell their stock off. Producers are advertising whole herds right now,” he said. 

Many producers are wondering what to do right now, and they have three options. 

“One, you sell your herd, secondly, you buy in feed, and the feed is so high that it’s not cost-effective but cost-prohibitive right now. Or thirdly, you find someone to feed your cattle for you. You make a deal with the feedlot somewhere to feed your cattle. That’s what people are scrambling to do right now, but it’s a tough go,” he said.

The president of the Manitoba Beef Producers Tom Teichroeb a rancher at Langruth, MB said this drought could well represent up to 80 per cent of the cattle in Manitoba.  

“This area and the Parkland region. Yes, I would agree. It’s a large number. I’m not saying every producer in that position, but a good percentage of them are because even with some spotty rains some producers have only a little feed,” said Jonasson. “But I don’t know of any producer that has a lot of feed or adequate feed. Everybody I talked to is short, and they’re talking selling 15, 20 per cent of their cow herd if not the whole herd if nothing happens.”

As one observer said, “You guys need to stand up and tell your story. And don’t be afraid because the political parties right now, they need to talk about this. They need whether an election or not, we have to talk about this now.”

“Oh. It’s too late for that to happen. It’s got to happen now,” concluded Arnthor Jonasson, Reeve of RM of West Interlake and a cattle producer.