Nearly 20 Saskatchewan RMs declare states of emergency as drought conditions worsen

Click to play video: 'Nearly 20 RMs declare states of emergency as drought conditions worsen'
Nearly 20 RMs declare states of emergency as drought conditions worsen
Sask.'s Association of Rural Municipalities says around 20 of the province's municipalities have declared states of emergency due to the drought conditions. Gates Guarin has more. – Jul 20, 2023

Saskatchewan’s Association of Rural Municipalities says around 20 of the province’s municipalities have declared states of emergency due to the drought conditions.

“With the impending weather forecast, it’s anticipated this number will continue to rise,” SARM president Ray Orb said in an email.

Temperatures around the central and southwestern areas of the province, which are experiencing the driest conditions, are expected to hover around 30 C heading into the weekend.

The most recent crop report for the period of July 11 to 17 said most hay producers aren’t expecting a second cut this year and livestock owners are concerned about feeding their animals through the winter.

The warm weather and low amounts of rain last week caused another decrease in topsoil moisture.

“Cropland topsoil moisture is 15 per cent adequate, 57 per cent short and 28 per cent very short,” read the report. “Hay and pastureland topsoil moisture is 12 per cent adequate, 50 per cent short and 38 per cent very short.”

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The report claimed that most recent damage was caused by dry conditions and swarms of grasshoppers burning through crops.

Field crop entomologist Tyler Wist said the grasshopper population is on the rise.

“Last year we had a really nice fall so the grasshopper embryo in eggs started to develop and so this year their development was more than they usually are, so we saw those grasshopper nymphs starting to come out two years earlier than usual,” Wist said.

“They start eating the crop when it is smaller and then they get big, when they are eating more of course, and they are taking down those crops when the crops can’t sustain them through growth.”

Click to play video: 'Agriculture entomologist discusses discusses Saskatchewan’s grasshopper population problem'
Agriculture entomologist discusses discusses Saskatchewan’s grasshopper population problem

The trace amounts of rain and thundershowers across the southwest and central regions this week were not enough to curb the drought conditions.

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Depending on what stage pastures and croplands are in when the dry spell hits, a drought can mean complete loss of germination or crop yield.

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Agri-climate specialist Trevor Hadwen said these conditions are something the province has been dealing with for the past five to six years.

“Things were a little bit better last year but dried out again this year,” Hadwen said. “Especially the last four weeks within the Saskatoon and North Battleford regions, we haven’t seen any rain whatsoever so that really hits hard with agriculture because that is our productive period where the flowering and the crop development really takes off.”

He said another challenge facing farmers is forage levels.

“With the long-term drought conditions that we have had, we are really dealing with pastures and feed supply issues that haven’t recovered in the last number of years,” Hadwen explained.” So, farmers are left with few options in terms of trying to find feed for them this year and it’s expensive.”

Many farmers are having to reduce their herds to accommodate for the lack of produce in their pastures.

Hadwen said farmers can mitigate the struggle on their own to a certain degree by growing drought-tolerant crops, putting the right rotations in place and conserving as much water as they can.

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He also noted that sometimes, the season can be nearly impossible to predict.

“Environment Canada does put out the seasonal forecast in terms of some of the conditions. Temperatures they are fairly good at — we are looking at a hot summer and generally warmer — but precipitation is very hard to predict,” Hadwen said.

Environment Canada is predicting slightly less snow during the upcoming winter season, which is another setback for farmers hoping to capture some moisture during the off-season.

Hadwen said he expects the cost of food to increase to stay on par with the rising cost of wheat and other produce.

“If we aren’t able to produce it, we are going to get into a situation where food costs are high, we aren’t bringing in as much money to the province and the region,” Hadwen said.

Carmen Prang with Sask Wheat has been at Ag in Motion this week chatting with producers from across the Prairies and said drought concerns have been the main theme of conversations.

“From the research side of things, Sask Wheat is investing more into drought-tolerant varieties and that area … but there’s not much more you can do when the weather conditions aren’t co-operating.”

Farmer Jake Leguee said the last time his Weyburn crops saw rain, it was June 20 and they only received half of an inch.

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“It’s unfortunate to start off so wet and then end up so dry,” Leguee said. “The crops seem to not be handling it as well, especially the wheat and durum.

“For the most part, we can just try to get it to harvest with the most quality we can get out of it. It’s really hard to know until we put a combine in the field.”

In the meantime, provincial groups are asking for help.

“We urge all levels of government, industry stakeholders, and the public to unite in support of the affected communities, and to extend a helping hand to ensure their resilience and recovery,” Orb said.

Saskatchewan’s minister of agriculture called on the federal government earlier this week to step in and make exceptions and accommodations for the struggling farmers.

“Many producers across Saskatchewan are facing extraordinary costs to ensure their animals are taken care of. We need to move quickly to consider all relief options, including an AgriRecovery assessment to help producers deal with the challenges brought about by drought,” said David Marit.

AgriRecovery is a relief framework provided to provinces by the federal government.

The provincial government also sent a letter to Ottawa asking for early implementation of the federal Tax Deferral Program.

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The criteria for identifying regions eligible for the program is forage shortfalls of 50 per cent or more caused by drought or excess moisture.

“Announcing an early designation in this program will provide producers facing potential feed shortages more options and flexibility when assessing their own individual situations,” read Marit’s letter to the federal government. “We are requesting that producers of all livestock species that use pastures and hay land for winter feed are declared as eligible.”

Crown grazing land rates have also been frozen and farmers might be eligible then for rent reductions.

Producers can get funding to develop new wells, pipelines and dugouts through the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program.

“Under The Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program, costs related to dugouts, pipelines, and wells are typically funded at 50 per cent of eligible costs, to a maximum rebate of $75,000 over the life of the program,” according to the province’s website.

The province also pointed to the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation’s Livestock Price Insurance program, noting it offers several policies.

“The Ministry of Agriculture has a team of extension specialists located in 10 regional offices across Saskatchewan to support producers with agronomic advice, program information and pathfinding services. Producers are encouraged to reach out for information on existing programs, alternative feeding strategies, pasture management, assistance with water testing or interpretation of feed and water test results.”

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— with files from Global News’ Brody Langager

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