Flooding woes just the start for Meadow Lake ranchers

Ranching along a river has its ups and downs. This year is a down year, with major flooding impacting ranches in northwestern Saskatchewan.

The flooding started on June 9 with water levels rising along the Beaver River impacting farmers in five RMs: Beaver River, Meadow Lake, Parkdale, Loon Lake and Big River. Water levels are now starting to go down, which is a relief for many who attended a meeting at the Northern Livestock Sales in Meadow Lake on July 2.

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Around 60 ranchers came to the meeting with representatives from major provincial organizations coming to offer them support and see what can be done for financial aid by way of income deferrals, tax relief, and claims through the Provincial Disaster Assistance Fund. Representatives included those from the federal and provincial governments, Ducks Unlimited, and the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA).

SCA chair Arnold Balicki said his organization has a weekly standing meeting with agriculture minister David Marit and he will be taking Meadow Lake rancher concerns to their meeting on July 8.

“What I hope comes from the meeting is that these producers who are in real trouble with this flood, get some assistance to get back to some type of normalcy because the losses are going to be huge and I don't think they can absorb those losses.”

Scott Campbell ranches with his brother Mark and their families just north of Meadow Lake. Pasture land that is normally green and vibrant is now underwater as the Beaver River now spans for kilometres across his land and that of his neighbouring ranchers.

“We’re basically still in crisis. Until we get rid of this water we can’t survey the damage and get our cows around,” Scott said.

During the meeting, three things were frequently mentioned that would be beneficial are support for ranchers impacted by flooding; land lease forgiveness, tax relief from the local RMs, and income tax deferrals to relieve some of the income tax stress from selling off herds earlier than expected.

Production losses are not going to be covered under the provincial disaster program, which is going to cause some problems. Balicki will be taking that to the minister to discuss what can be done for the thousands of acres of land that ranchers will not be able to bale for the winter.

Major floods like these are nothing new and happen once every 20 to 25 years, he said, he can take that. The silver lining is that this year’s flood took place in June so his pasture land has time to recover and be productive before he brings in his cows for fall grazing. 

The nutrient left from the flood nourishes the pasture which is why the land beside the river is so productive most years, he said.

Until then, there are still productive farms that have feed available for those in need, so while some ranchers who have never had to buy feed will be buying more of it. 

Scott grazes his herd from spring to fall and buys his feed for winter. This year he’ll just have to buy more than usual, he said. He has already had a canola farmer offering to sell him feed and he won’t be the only one.

Meetings like the one on July 2, which gave ranchers in the area the chance to talk with their fellow ranchers and important agricultural representatives, was just what they needed, Scott said.

Brent Brooks, who organized and hosted the meeting, said that was the goal when he started setting everything up. Brooks is planning more meetings for the future so everyone keeps communicating about what is going on and getting things done.

Sharing ideas is a big part of the meeting, he said, and he is sure that there were things discussed at the meeting that half the attendees hadn’t thought about it, like tax concessions.

“This isn’t an issue that you can sit and wait till the 15th of September to start. There are some real hard decisions that have to be made by these ranchers and the big one that comes right now, you can hear them talking tonight, if they have got hay fields to graze, they're grazing. The winter feed supply is going to be very iffy.”

Brooks said he is already planning for more meetings in the future. This is not a problem that will go away when the water recedes. Ranchers in the area will be feeling the consequences of this flood for years to come.

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