By Alex McCuaig, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on July 21, 2021.
Cypress County council voted Tuesday to declare a state of agricultural disaster as prolonged drought continues to devastate drylands crops and pasture in the region.
Council heard they are the third in the province to declare an agricultural disaster following the Foothills and Stettler counties.
And far more are expected to follow in the next few weeks.
Less than half of crops in the southern part of the province are rated in good-to-excellent condition, with that number dropping to 20% for mixed-grain crops. Potatoes top that same list complied by the province at 80%.
Reeve of Newell County, Molly Douglass, says the topic of declaring an agricultural disaster will be on its council’s agenda this Thursday.
If they do so, it’ll be the first time since she was elected 17 years ago.
“We’ll have a good discussion but things are looking pretty bad,” said Douglass. “The drylands crops are done.”
Douglass says one issue will be if the criteria will be met for declaring a disaster, as much of the farmland in the rural municipality is under irrigation.
But even those are under stress and when it comes to drylands crops.
“I think it’s too late. No amount of rain will bring back crops to where they should be,” said Douglass.
Insurance will likely be a saviour for many of the producers, with many in the industry covered because, “you can’t afford not to be. The bills have to be paid.”
The same situation is being faced by the County of 40 Mile, according to Reeve Steven Wikkerink in the heart of the drought-prone Palliser Triangle.
But with irrigated crops such as corn, sugar beets, beans, dill, spearmint and potatoes doing well, Wikkerink says council doesn’t believe they will meet the criteria to declare an agricultural disaster when it was discussed three weeks ago.
“We felt for those reasons, we couldn’t justify that call to government,” Wikkerink said of the disaster declaration.
But that is not reflective of how dire the situation is for producers, he added.
And for cattlemen, the effects will go beyond the summer as they try to source feed.
“This time (the drought) goes across the three prairie provinces,” said Wikkerink, adding the situation is the same in neighbouring North Dakota and Montana extending across the US Southwest. “And that’s a huge disaster down there.”
That’ll impact access to hay while native pasture is all but done for the year as, “once it runs out of moisture, it’s gone.”
An additional issue will be the threat of soil erosion as producers try to harvest as much as they can. Wildfires are a serious risk as well, with as little as a spark caused from a blade hitting a stone able to cause disaster, said Wikkerink.