B.C. has announced a huge funding package to help farmers and food producers who were affected by November’s record-breaking floods.
“This is the greatest amount of financial support of its kind in B.C.’s history,” Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said Monday afternoon.
The package, consisting of $228 million in provincial and federal cash, will go towards needs not covered by existing programs or private insurance.
This includes returning flood-impacted land and buildings to their previous state, replacing perennial plants such as blueberries, the repair of uninsurable farm infrastructure, and care for animals.
“The B.C. agricultural community has pulled together and demonstrated its strength and determination in the face of devastating floods,” Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food said Monday.
The governments of Canada and British Columbia have also established a committee of ministers who are working together and with Indigenous leadership to guide immediate and ongoing support to British Columbia families, businesses and communities affected by the extreme weather events, the province said in a release Monday.
Farmers who have already undertaken any work are advised to keep their receipts, track the hours of work involved, and take pictures documenting the damage and repairs to support their application.
Interior rancher Rhonda MacDonald said Sunday she’s somewhat skeptical but still very hopeful about the potential flood recovery cash.
“Honestly at this point, that’s really all we have to cling to,” MacDonald told Global News Sunday.
MacDonald and her husband Wayne, who raise beef cattle and grow hay at Bar FX Ranch along Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge, joined dozens of other ranchers as they rode their horses into Merritt Sunday for a rally in support of the long-anticipated agri-recovery funds.
The couple lost 20 per cent of their cattle herd during the Lytton Creek wildfire – before last November’s flooding wiped out cattle and irrigation infrastructure, and hayfields.
The MacDonalds are hoping for help to cover the cost of hay to feed their animals, land recovery and remediation.
“We don’t want the government to support us indefinitely,” said MacDonald.
“We want a hand to get us fixed so that we can go back to supporting ourselves and doing the job that we love.”
The Small-Scale Meat Producers Association said ranchers need to know what financial aid is coming so they have a budget to book contractors and start rebuilding.
“The scale of the devastation is just hard to imagine if you haven’t been here,” said president Julia Smith.
“And it isn’t something that they’re going to be able to quickly fix.”
Time is also running out Smith said, with fields thawing and the spring freshet fast approaching.
In Abbotsford, the Gill family’s B.C. Blueberries Farm was flooded when the Nooksack River in Washington State burst its banks and started pouring north last November.
With no warning that dikes had breached until the water was flowing into their home, the Gills fled Sumas Prairie at the last minute.
“It was devastating,” recalled Harmandeep Singh Gill Sunday.
Within hours, some of B.C.’s most productive farmland was submerged – including 13 hectares of Gill’s family farm – the once fertile soil contaminated with debris everywhere.
“There was everything from lost mailboxes to trash cans, everything,” said Gill.
“It just looked like a war zone – like a bomb went off.”
Gill said family, friends and the community stepped in to help get his family on the road to recovery.
They will replant, he said, but it will take time to grow back a healthy, viable blueberry crop.
Gill takes comfort in the fact Popham toured the flood-ravaged Sumas Prairie in December and said farmers need to know there will be government support for any loss of production.
“This is going to be a devastating thing if we are not supported with crop losses.”
With the future of his family’s livelihood still uncertain, Gill said governments must also ensure diking systems are maintained going forward and that an alert system is in place to warn residents in the event they need to move to higher ground.
“In the 21st century, there should be no way that a farmer is having to rely on his neighbours telling them if the water’s coming,” said Gill.
How to apply
Program criteria and application forms are available online: gov.bc.ca/agrifloodrecovery
One-on-one assistance in English and Punjabi is available to farmers requiring assistance completing the applications through firstname.lastname@example.org
Or toll-free: 1 888 332-3352.
Application forms are available online: gov.bc.ca/agrifloodrecovery
Income protection programs for BC farmers: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/programs#Insurance
Emergency management for agriculture: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/industry/agriculture-seafood/business-market-development/emergency-management