Submitted by: Rachel Kehoe, Northwestern Ontario Regional Communication Coordinator
Thunder Bay, Kenora and Rainy River districts are struggling through extreme drought this spring and summer. In the month of July, Thunder Bay had just 15.9 mm of precipitation, Kenora area had a meager 8.4 mm. With precipitation less than 20% of the district average, livestock producers are facing challenges and decisions that leave a dampened view of the agriculture future in Northwestern Ontario.
Beef farmers who rely on grazing their cattle throughout the year to November are seeing little to no regrowth of pastures for second and third rotations, as well as dried creeks and ponds typically used as water sources for cattle. Faced with the fear they may run out of feed by Labour Day, along with the increase in workload and cost of hauling water to cattle or cattle to water, many farmers are having to sell off portions of their herds to stay afloat.1 “We don’t want that breeding stock to get sold off. That stock is the backbone to the rural economy that the average person doesn’t see. Without cattle we don’t have the farms. Without the farms we don’t have the spending in stores to get supplies. We also don’t have the feed stores and the local dealerships,” said Jason Reid, a Thunder Bay area beef producer, and an at-large member of the board of the Beef Federation of Ontario, in an interview with tbnewswatch.com in early August.2
Dairy producers in Kenora and Rainy River regions are facing challenges with low yield and crop quality on fields for first cut and worry about having adequate feed to last through the winter until a hopeful better growing season next summer. Thunder Bay producers were thankfully blessed with a good spring and crops seem to be growing well in the area for first cuts.
However, dairy producers in all areas will face an increase in production cost due to the scarcity of feed available for purchase, in relation to the demand, to subsidize low yield on second and third cuts.
Both the provincial and federal governments have responded to assist producers in Northwestern Ontario suffering with the drought conditions. In July, the Northwestern Livestock Emergency Assistance Initiative announced $2 million in funding earmarked to cover the costs of bringing in feed and hay as well as the construction of temporary fencing when moving cattle to new grazing locations.
An additional $5 million was announced by Queen’s Park from their federal-provincial AgriRecovery program. “Ontario is calling on the federal government to include costs related to hay and other feeds, transportation of feed, transportation of animals to feed, measures to provide water to animals including trucking and equipment, temporary fencing and other extraordinary costs related to the drought.”3
Furthermore, in mid-August, Ottawa announced it was setting aside $100 million to support cattle producers in drought-stricken and forest fire-threatened areas of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. The government stated these initiatives are only short-term responses while they work on a long-term program for agriculture recovery response.
While the announcements of federal and provincial support tell producers that help is on the way, there is still concern about hardships the drought has created for farmers in Northwestern Ontario, and the health of Ontario’s cow herd and infrastructure that supports the provincial economy.
Farmers facing an impact to their mental health due to stress and uncertainty imposed by the drought are urged to contact The Do More Ag Foundation, a not-for-profit organization focusing on mental health in agriculture across Canada.