Drought in Saskatchewan: 39 R.M.s declare agricultural disasters, SARM working with other organizations for long-term solutions

The President of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) has been busy this summer working on the drought issue.

Ray Orb has been touring areas affected by dry conditions, talking with Rural Municipality officials and attending townhall meetings hosted by the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA).

The conditions have been forcing R.M.’s to declare agricultural disasters and Orb said 39 R.M.s have done that as of today (Fri).

“Some of them are asking for help, specifically for livestock producers,” Orb said of R.M.s. “SARM has been following this very closely.”

He’s hopeful no more R.M.s declare an agricultural disaster, but expects the list to grow in the next week or so.

Orb says crops have either been abandoned or being baled or used for forage, and urges grain farmers to help their cattle counterparts during this difficult time.

He believes Sask. Crop Insurance is doing the best they can to try and help producers evaluate their crop yields.

“SARM has been working with the SCA and the (Saskatchewan) Stock Growers Association as to try and get some better forage insurance programs, but I think those are more long-term goals,” he said. “Unfortunately the short-term is we’ve heard a lot of producers say that they could use some help.”

“The trucking industry perhaps can assist them somehow if they do need to bring hay in, and I know that the province has asked the federal government to look at AgriRecovery as being another program, and I think there has been an assessment done on that. I suppose we’re waiting for the federal government to reply on that.” Orb continued.

Orb is optimistic that the federal government will respond quickly to the province’s request for an assessment on AgriRecovery, but that is dependent on provincial Ag Minister David Marit pushing his federal counterpart, Lawrence MacAulay to be proactive.

“I have confidence he (Marit) is doing that,” Orb said. “I wouldn’t say that I’m overly optimistic that the federal government would come up with the right idea, but I still think that they would value Western Canadian agriculture as being very critical to the national GDP. You also have to think about the welfare of the ranchers and the farmers and their families and that there is help; I think it needs to be provided sooner than later.”

Orb says there’s more than one solution to the problem such as federal and provincial programs, but those need to be delivered on a timely basis in order for them to work.

One solution Orb has an eye on is the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project, and is wondering where the province is at with the project. Back in February the province said the project was in the early-planning phase.

“When there’s drought water is such a valuable commodity and I know that the province is…struggling with this a little bit, and that would go back to the federal government providing funding because I know in the original press announcement that the province issued, it mentioned the national infrastructure bank and I’m not sure if Saskatchewan is prepared as a province to borrow a lot of money to finish this project.” Orb explained.

“You would think the federal government would be providing their share of the funding just like they do for any other major infrastructure project in any province in Canada, so that’s something we’d like to discuss with Minister MacAulay and probably the federal infrastructure minister (Sean) Fraser as well in October.”

Orb says the plan to head to Ottawa to meet with the Ministers this fall, as well as with the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency in the next two weeks to get an update on the Lake Diefenbaker Irrigation Project.

In the interim, he’s talked with Minister Marit on a regular basis.

“We’ve been meeting and we plan to meet again with the Stock Growers and SCA to see what their plan is, and I know a lot of this is contingent on what their boards think the next step should be. I wouldn’t rule out talking to the federal minister of agriculture to see (and ask) ‘Mr. MacAulay, what you have in mind to help our western Canadian farmers?’ And keeping in mind we have Saskatchewan farmers with Alberta farmers that are under the same pressure, and I think action needs to be taken.” Orb said.

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