In order to better understand how this summer’s heavy rains impacted area farmers, Westlock-St. Paul MP and agriculture committee member Brian Storseth visited the county last week to take a tour of a few fields where water levels virtually wiped out a season’s worth of work.
On Sept. 15, Storseth, who grew up in the Barrhead area, came out from Ottawa to speak to farmers and see for himself how bad things were. He also wanted to see if the AgriRecovery program, which provides the equivalent of $30 per acre of unproductive land in relief, was working effectively.
“I thought it was important to come out and see how it was affecting the guys,” he said.
He added that although what happened this summer was a unique experience, he didn’t want to raise expectations that the federal and provincial governments would be able to increase assistance if needed.
When Storseth arrived, he sat down to speak with Leonard Schmidt, who was unable to be at his property.
The two of them talked about the current status of Schmidt’s land, two fields of which still have water on them, Schmidt said.
For Schmidt, the biggest issue with the flooding was the dike system. If it had been able to contain the rising water levels, he would not have lost his crops.
“If the water was contained, I would have lots of silage in my pits,” he said.
In addition, he said he was disillusioned with the relative pittance the AgriRecovery program provides. It’s only about $30 per acre, which doesn’t cover his costs, which now include buying crops from one of his neighbours for close to $90 per acre, he said.
When responding to Schmidt’s concerns, Storseth explained that the program was originally designed to assist the farmers in Manitoba when their lands flooded this year. At the time, Alberta only had about 500 acres flooded, so it wasn’t as much of a concern.
However, he said that now that things have worsened, he wants to see how bad they are so he can return to Ottawa and speak to the proper ministries to see what can be done to provide adequate assistance.
While on tour, Storseth and county reeve Bill Lee and CAO Mark Oberg stopped at Ken Kummer’s property and visited with Joe Olson and Larry Patterson to talk about how the flooding had impacted them.
Kummer said the flooding wasn’t necessarily the problem. Instead, it was the extent of it.
“I don’t mind it unnaturally flooding,” he said. “I’ve just never had the water stay so long.”
In his fields, he said the grass was killed off completely, and is only now coming back from seed. In the meantime, he’s had to rent pasture land from a neighbour to graze his 300 pairs of cattle, he said.
“The cost of this to myself is about $30 per-pair per-month in rent,” he said. “And that’s not including other costs I’ve haven’t figured out yet.”
Looking forward, Kummer said he’s concerned about 2012, particularly whether there will be grass in his fields, because he doesn’t know if it will survive the winter.
When the tour met with Olson and Patterson, they said they were thankful for the opportunity to show what the water had done to their fields.
For Patterson in particular, the flood damage was extensive, he said.
“I only have about two or three acres out of 80 that are good,” he said.
Olson questioned how the flood damage, which was officially designated a disaster in July, seemed to get less attention and resources than the Slave Lake fires.
“This is a disaster,” he said. “So were the fires, but why are we treated different from Slave Lake?”
In addition, Olson said that the $30 per acre in relief is simply not enough.
Storseth said he sympathized with that point. Although the $30 does help, it doesn’t go a long way when farmers have already sunk close to $200 per acre into their fields.
Overall, Olson said his message to Storseth and the government is a simple one.
“Just admit you messed up,” he said. “Don’t say that we should be grateful to get $28.50 per acre.”