SSGA calls for long-term action in wake of drought conditions

SSGA President Kelcy Walcer -SSGA photo

The Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association (SSGA) joined other agricultural advocacy groups in calling for adjustments to both the federal and provincial government’s actions around Saskatchewan’s worsening drought situation.

The organization released the contents of a proposal submitted to the provincial and federal governments on Wednesday. SSGA president Kelcy Elford said the already announced programs were great first steps, but won’t be enough on their own.

“There are further things that need to be done,” Elford said during a phone interview on Thursday.

In a release, Elford said that the organization appreciated the measures Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada implemented most notably the triggering of AgriRecovery assessments.

However, the SSGA also called on the federal government to increase the Livestock Tax Deferral Program announced last week to a five-year program. They also want it to include all classes of cattle and regions of Saskatchewan. The federal and provincial governments have offered one year tax deferrals.

“We need that to be at least a five year tax deferral program because this is not going to be a one year issue,” Elford explained. “We need to go long term on this so if they do have to liquidate or depopulate the herds, then it’s not going be eaten all up in taxes. (Then,) when they go to buy back in they have got the capital to do it.”

Elford said the Moose Jaw area where he operates has seen four winters without snow before this heat wave and drought. That’s made it even more difficult for farmers.

“We rely heavily on snow for runoff and so feed stacks have been depleted,” he said. “There is no feed to be had virtually anywhere.”

Elford added that the heat would continue to have a far-reaching domino effect well into the future.

“If we cut the numbers back, even if people buy back to source the cattle, you are a long way from getting the numbers back up to where they need to be, getting the plants to run at capacity, getting the same level of production to the stores,” he said. “It’s all tied in together. This is a big wreck.”

Elford said things looked okay entering June, but the July heatwave increased the sense of urgency.

 “It started getting dry and things happened quickly,” he said. “This isn’t ‘we need action a month from now.’ We need action now.”

The SSGA also asked for additions to the AgriRecovery programming to ensure that livestock producers are able to make time-sensitive business decisions. The organization is closely reviewing existing program policy for anything that can be adapted.

They also encouraged both levels of government to work with grain companies to remove barriers that prevent salvage of feed from forward-contracted crops. The organization also wants both levels to work with both shortline and national railway companies  to find affordable transportation for relocating feed, feed grains and by-products to deficit areas in the province.

They also said they recognized the great working relationship they have with the grain sector, and called on grain farmers to make below-average crops and straw available for feed.

Water quality is also a concern. The SSGA wants changes to the Farm and Ranch Water Infrastructure Program (FRWIP) that would make it easier to build off-site watering systems. That would include decreasing the gross farm income eligibility requirement to $10,000, and allowing power installations for wells, water pumping and water hauling as eligible expenses, among other things.

Elford said water quality is declining in some areas and the already announced enhancements were welcome. However, as with previous proposals, he said more was needed.

“They don’t include the power. In my own situation, if I have to dig a deep well, to put it where it needs to be to trench off to bring good clean water, I need to bring power in and that’s a substantial cost. We would like to see that program and have power included in it,” he said.

They also requested that the regulatory approval process for FRWIP projects be expedited. They also asked that the government portion to contractors be paid directly. As well, they requested funding for temporary fencing to enable grazing of un-harvestable crops.

The SSGA called on the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) to expedite assessments and adjustments on a regional basis, They also want the SCIC to ensure grain producers inclusion for borderline yields; and Adjust guaranteed base price to reflect current market prices.

Regarding financial management and cash flow, the proposal asked that producers be allowed to make AgriInvest withdrawals tax-free and provide AgriStability advance interim payments and offer long term low interest loans to cover expenses incurred due to the drought and to help rebuild.

They also requested a payment extension on Farm Credit Canada (FCC) COVID-19 loans, Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) and Advanced Payments Program (APP) cash advances and work with financial institutions to support agriculture producers during these difficult times.