‘Million-dollar rain’ offers reprieve to Manitoba farmers, firefighters

A field north of Brandon was doused with inches of rain overnight. Manitoba Forage and Glassland Association

Recent rainfall across Manitoba has offered some farmers, ranchers and firefighters temporary relief as the province heads into another warm, dry week.

Rancher Arnthor Jonasson living in the Interlake region called the douse “million-dollar rain.”

Some parts of the province got up to around 70 mm over 24 hours as of Friday afternoon, including the City of Brandon, one of the driest areas in the country.

Along with regions near the Canada-U.S. border, the Brandon area currently sits under exceptional drought conditions, the most severe ranking on Canada’s drought monitor.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Wildfire Update – May 19' Manitoba Wildfire Update – May 19
Manitoba Wildfire Update – May 19 – May 19, 2021

“It’s a good relief, but it hasn’t broken the drought,” said Larry Wegner, chairperson of the Manitoba Forage and Grassland Association.

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Wegner, who also runs a cow and calf operation in Virden, said the recent rain won’t put a big dent in the province’s drought problems.

“It’s just like looking at your bank account and saying, ‘Oh, a thousand dollars in the bank, and you found a hundred dollars under the couch.’ It’s a good relief. You got it but still not enough to get you out of trouble yet,” Wegner said.

Before the rain, people were concerned there wouldn’t be enough feed for the season, he said. Now this rain will help crops and grazing fields grow.

“Everybody was concerned about moisture. Community pastures are just starting to take cows now, and that is at least two to three weeks later than normal.”

Keeping cattle at home longer can be a “never-ending job” of providing them with enough water, Wegner said, with some needing around 20 gallons a day in scorching weather.

“Right now, all rain is helpful. There is no such thing as bad rain right now. We’ll take anything we can get.”

He said people can generally manage dry conditions in two ways: by planning cattle grazing across fields and using water effectively.

“The biggest thing is being able to make effective use of the water that lands in your land. You want it to soak in, which is called effective rainfall. You don’t want the actual rainfall running off,” Wegner said.

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Read more: B.C. deploys crews to Manitoba to assist with several aggressive wildfires

Recent rainfall has also helped improve the province’s wildfire situation, especially in southern Manitoba, but only temporarily, Manitoba Wildfire Service director David Schafer told Global News Friday.

Crews are still tackling a dozen wildfires in the province’s eastern region with the help of Ontario firefighters, including one north of the RM of Grahamdale.

Around 40 B.C. firefighters, who came to support Manitoba’s efforts, left for home Friday afternoon.

“We really have one area of concern left, and that’s the central portion of the province,” Schafer said.

The Interlake region hasn’t received as much needed rain as the rest of Manitoba, he said.

The province is offering families free fishing June 12 and 13, while provincial park access fees are also waived.

As people head outside this weekend, Schafer cautions them to keep fire safety in mind.

“The conditions are, have improved … so the immediate concern is lesser this weekend than it would have been obviously last weekend with the high winds that we had,” Schafer said.

“But we’re going to be returning back to those conditions early next week, so we just want people to always be thinking about fire safety and what they can do to be part of the solution, so that we don’t have to worry about it the next time.”

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Over the next month, southern Manitoba will probably have lower than normal precipitation, Environment Canada meteorologist Sara Hoffman told Global News Friday.

Several municipalities in this area still have burning restrictions in place.

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