How dry is it? Setback or disaster

COBDEN – An information meeting, promising answers for area farmers who are struggling under severe drought conditions, failed to deliver on the night of August 21.

Approximately 150 farmers left the Cobden Agriculture Hall frustrated and disappointed, following a two-hour presentation hosted by the local chapter of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA).
Farmers attending the meeting, in hopes of hearing that Canada’s federal and provincial governments are ready to deliver some financial relief their way, will have to wait and see.
Renfrew County Business Development Officer Alistair Baird, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) Crop Specialist Scott Banks, and Mike Thompson of Community Futures Development Corporation were among those addressing the crowd. Low water data collection, dangers associated with corn silage storage and financial assistance for those unable to secure bank loans were among the topics discussed.
The provincial insurance body Agricorp sent several representatives to the meeting. Gail Simkus, a manager and product management and industry-relations spokesperson, fielded questions from farmers, expressing doubt in the agency’s rainfall collection data and little faith in timely insurance delivery.
OMAFRA Senior Policy Advisor Bradley Shaw and Agriculture and Agriculture Food Canada (AAFC) representative Rick Fiarchuk outlined AgriRecovery’s assessment criteria.
Those hoping to hear about disaster relief were told an AgriRecovery assessment would take 45 business days, and officials conducting the assessment would need more information regarding impacts before forwarding their recommendations.
For most farmers in the area, the time to make decisions to protect their investments is now.
National Farmers Union Renfrew County Local Vice President Tim Tabbert attended the meeting.
“If we knew help was coming, then we could plan. We just need to know,” he pointed out.
Tabbert operates a 100-acre feedlot; a small cattle operation compared to others, he said. But like others, Tabbert is looking for help with the financial burden.
“Feed costs, transportation and the prospect of selling off breeding lines that family farmers have spent their lives developing, are heavy costs to bear,” he said.
While a provision in the federal income tax act allows farmers who sell part of their breeding herd, due to drought to defer a portion of sale proceeds to the following year, areas must have the prescribed drought designated by the Ministry of Finance.
Fiarchuk cautioned, however, “Despite designation there is no direct link between Prescribed Drought Regions and AgriRecovery.”
NFU President Dave MacKay did not attend the Tuesday night meeting but said members are frustrated.
“We [cattle farmers] just got over a load of crap with seven years of this mad cow disease. We just start to feel good about farming again and then this. I know guys who are done – they are throwing in the towel,” McKay said.
MacKay will attend a meeting organized by MP Cheryl Gallant to take place at the Renfrew Legion this week. He noted, “But after that I am finished with meetings. It’s time for action.”
Fiarchuk, who directs the AAFC’s disaster assessment and analysis division stressed, “AgriRecovery is not a program. It’s a framework. It is not intended to replace lost income or coverage available through existing programs but rather augment existing assistance.

Story continues in the August 29 issue of The Valley Gazette.