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Meeting with ag minister helps County farmers explain effects of drought

Lloyd Crowe, of Reynolds Bros Farm, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi and Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff inspect the condition of the soy beans at the farm.

Lloyd Crowe, of Reynolds Bros Farm, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Jeff Leal Northumberland-Quinte West MPP Lou Rinaldi and Prince Edward County Mayor Robert Quaiff inspect the condition of the soy beans at the farm.

Ontario’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs had no funding to offer, but lent a sympathetic ear to challenges Prince Edward County farmers are facing because of drought conditions not seen here since the 1940s.

Leal was in Grafton Wednesday morning to announce $17 million in infrastructure funding throughout the Northumberland Quinte West riding before heading on a tour of agriculture and farm destinations in that riding, and to the County, on invitation by Mayor Robert Quaiff.

“I’ve been out on the road alot lately and want to take the opportunity to really ascertain the extent of the drought – particularly in a band of Ontario that starts at Kawartha Lakes, goes through Peterborough County, Northumberland, Hastings and Prince Edward County,” said Leal. “It’s important for me, as minister, to be at the kitchen tables and in the fields to get a sense of the challenges that we’re facing…to listen very carefully to hear your concerns and how we can work together… and respond in a sensitive, effective and quick manner.”

leal-hears-farmers-concernsMayor Robert Quaiff instigated the gathering during last month’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Windsor, then followed up with numerous updates on the effects on the County of the area’s Level 3 water conditions and drought.

Included in the reports with Leal was news that some County farmers struggling to produce crops and hay are having to sell their livestock to avoid paying high prices throughout the winter.

“We were going to leave the AMO conference and come down but lo and behold, it rained,” said Quaiff. “But we stayed in touch and Minister Leal said he would come down and have a conversation with the local farmers.”

About 30 local farmers met Leal at the Reynolds Bros Farm just outside Picton. A few shared examples of the effects of the drought and opined the ineffectiveness of crop insurance.

Lloyd Crowe, of Reynolds Bros Farm, said a promising year soon turned into an historical drought.

“I’ve had many farmers tell me they’ve never seen anything like this in their life,” he said. “It started out so nice we were on the ground early and the crops were in really well and things looked really promising except the Lord forgot to send the rain. It had come a little bit in the middle of August but a little too late.”

Crowe said he hopes for improvements to crop insurance programs and risk management systems both provincially and federally, noting, like others, he’s paid a lot into them, but never received anything back.

“I hear people say, oh, you’ve got insurance, you’ve really made it, but all that insurance does is help pay the input costs. You do not make a living off of it,” added Crowe. “We’ve learned in Prince Edward County that when you have a few good years you get ready for the bad years.”

The sentiment was echoed by other farmers around the table, including Dean Foster, a cash crop farmer on East Lake, who said the program needs to be adapted to handle special situations like this summer’s unprecedented drought.

“What concerns me is we’re going to be plugging into our crop insurance with a yield value so low that it will be haunting us for 10 years,” said Foster.

“My yields are so low that I’ll be paying for this for the next 10 years,” he told Leal. “When you have crop insurance, it’s based on your 10-year average on your farm. We had drought for 2012 but our yields were still good when you add in the other nine years. My 10-year average was 175 bushels (per acre) but this year I’ll be lucky to get 40. It drags your average down so next year I’ll be penalized for having a claim and my average will be way down.”

The insurance program he said, “needs to be adjusted because we’re producing food for people to eat – it’s not like a car accident that could have been avoided.”

Tim Beatty, of Beatty Seeds, said the drought “is very serious” and will affect the markets and related businesses far and wide, now, and in the future.

Leal recognized that the 52,000 family farms in province are responsible for GDP of $36.6 billion – eclipsing the auto sector. “They are the basis… (less than) two per cent of the population are looking after 98 per cent of Ontario’s population,” Leal said.

Farmer Gary Fox, a former local MPP, said the drought has caused a shortage of feed to the point where it’s difficult to feed the animals now, let alone through the coming winter.

“If this keeps going in this province, I think you’ll see a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in sheep inventory because of the circumstances. We can save a lot of this… There’s feed out there if we’d only get together and handle this situation properly and give these guys their full crop insurance. Don’t leave it too long. We’ve gone long enough. Rain isn’t going to make a difference now for corn and soybeans.”

Another livestock producer told Leal he is hard hit on hay and is bringing it in from out of province.

“I opted out of hay crop insurance a number of years ago because of its unreliability. The year of Hurricane Katrina
we had four inches of rain on the last day of August and that nulled our pay-out that year. As Gary said, four inches on the last day of August is not going to help anybody.”

Councillor Janice Maynard said there’s been preliminary talks about emergency plans for drought.

“Like those for floods and natural disasters to ease some of the red tape, but it’s never been done in the province as best as we can tell. Between the municipalities and the Conservation Authority and emergency management teams, we could get some directive from your ministry on how to develop those plans. This may not be over this fall. We may have to live with this next year. We could be better prepared, either for next year, or going forward.”

Leal promised he would take all the information back to Queen’s Park.

“Things are changing dramatically and governments have to make sure they have the policy mechanisms in place,” said Leal. “Especially with climate change and the now common, erratic weather patterns.”

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