RENFREW — The impact the drought has had on Eastern Ontario continues to affect farmers and is reaching many aspects of the business. One area of concern is actual herds and the problem of feeding livestock.
Many producers are saying that if relief doesn’t come soon, they will be forced to sell off portions of their herds.
One of those people is Dave Mackay, president of the Renfrew County National Farmers Union. He says he has already noticed farmers in his area liquidating their livestock and says he may be next. "I spoke to a truck driver just last week who brings animals to the sale barn, and he said that in addition to his own truck he had to bring in two more just to bring the extra beef."
Renfrew has been hit particularly hard and Mackay himself, a sheep farmer, says that if he doesn’t see relief soon, he too will have to start selling some of his flock. "Livestock is really big in this area and anyone who has animals just won’t be able to afford to feed them if hay becomes $50 to $70 a bale."
Right now, Mackay and his organization are trying to get support from the government to help them deal with the costs.
Members of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party were recently in Navan demanding that the McGuinty government step up to the plate.
In response, Ontario’s Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Minister Ted McMeekin, on a recent tour of Renfrew County, pointed to the federal government, saying the provincial government has asked Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to join Ontario in disaster relief.
McMeekin and the Ontario government say they will protect farmers with AgriStability coverage if they are being forced to sell breeding stock due to pasture shortages.
At this point, Mackay is urging farmers in hard-hit Renfrew County who are in need of such relief to call their local MP, Cheryl Gallant, to pressure on the federal government for funding as soon as possible. "They are saying a decision could take 45 days," said Mackay. "But for farmers, they are in a tough spot because they say if they can get relief soon, they will be able to keep their herd."
He added that beef, specifically in his area, has been hit hard for the last decade and has only seen improvements in the last couple of years. Without relief, he suggested, the industry in the area could be almost crippled.
Jamie Clark is the Vice President of the Stormont Cattlemen’s Association. He says that his area has been lucky so far, but could see similar problems, too, in the future. "The price of hay could become a real issue for our area next year. I am hoping to see the Ontario and federal government put in the disaster relief funding programs so it does not become an issue. If not, famers will be forced to buy the hay, feed corn, move onto greener pastures or sell off."
Closer to Ottawa, Steve Spratt, owner of Ottawa Livestock Exchange, says he has noticed the price of beef being cheaper than just a couple of months ago. He says that it is not solely because of the drought leading to a livestock sell-off but a combination of factors including a large sale barn that was recently closed near Montreal. Spratt expects that to change in the next couple of weeks, if conditions remain the same. "When the price of hay goes up some farmers may try to sell off. When the grass runs out and they are unable to feed their herd or realize they won’t be able to feed them over the winter, that may be when we see more farmers have to sell."
Mackay has already begun to feed his sheep with his winter reserve as most in his area have. He says that while it is all good that many agricultural support programs have been implemented, many will not come into effect right away, meaning the only solution is for immediate funding. "All we can do is ask for help. In this area we gave the federal Conservatives our support and now we want help. If politicians want to look good then send money."