With just two words, Kim Jo Bliss summed up the collective appreciation of cattle producers across northwestern Ontario following the announcement of $2 million in relief funding to help them battle a drought that's devastated their industry over the last several weeks.
“We know there's more to go in the future, but we want cattle to have feed and water, and our cattle to stay in the district; we want cattle to stay in Kenora District, so we're very thankful,” said Bliss, a cattle producer and the Northern Ontario field representative with Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO).
Lisa Thompson, the province's minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, announced the funding under the newly formed Northwestern Livestock Emergency Assistance Initiative on July 27.
Under the initiative, $800,000 will go to BFO to immediately address feed shortages for any impacted farmers through the Rainy River and Kenora Districts.
Soaring temperatures and a lack of rain have stunted the growth of pasture, leaving nothing to feed cattle, and in some cases, water sources have also dried up. Some producers have even begun selling off cattle in order to stay afloat.
Bliss said the organization is looking at trucking in hay from other jurisdictions that haven't been hit as hard by dry conditions, but it will likely have to travel far distances to get there.
Provinces in Western Canada, which would normally provide an alternative source for hay, aren't an option this time around, as they're experiencing their own drought and are in short supply.
“There are other parts of the province that are in an abundance of hay, and even Atlantic Canada,” Bliss said. "There is hay out there; we just have to get it to Rainy River.”
Thompson said an additional $1.2 million will go to livestock producers for additional emergency measures.
That includes procuring water supplies or installing new fencing so that cattle can graze in alternative locations.
The funds will be administered through Agricorp, which provides financial services to the agriculture industry on behalf of the province. This program will apply to any expenses incurred by farmers as a result from dry weather, starting June 14 onward, Thompson said.
Bliss estimated producers could receive information on how to apply for funding as early as the end of this week, but Thompson encouraged them to start making plans now.
“If you need fencing, get it; if you need to address your water situation, whether it's bringing water on site or drilling a well, entertain what the costs are, get best estimates, and you will be notified by Agricorp when they're ready to receive your eligible expenses,” she said.
“Keep your receipts, get them submitted, and we'll be turning this around in a very efficient manner.”
Thompson said the measures announced today are a direct result of consultations she's had with the area's producers and sector organizations.
Feedback provided by farmers during an online July 21 meeting, in particular, “hit home,” said Thompson, who comes from a farming family.
“It was during that meeting we heard firsthand some of the issues that you're facing locally and that you've been dealing with because of the dry weather, and I quickly appreciated that you had immediate needs,” Thompson said.
An extended drought not only puts the livelihood of local producers at stake, but it also threatens the future of the area's infrastructure, including a cattle sales barn, an abattoir, and supply stores, jeopardizing the region's entire agricultural industry.
“This affects every farmer in this district,” Bliss said.
Thompson said she continues to work with her federal ministerial counterpart, Marie-Claude Bibeau, and other provincial contacts on initiatives that would help ensure farmers can make it through the winter months as well.