Lower Mainland farmers who watched last season’s fall crops rot in soggy fields after record-setting rains are getting some long-awaited financial relief.
The federal and provincial agricultural ministers were in Ladner Tuesday morning (July 12) to announce funding meant to help B.C. farmers recover from the damage caused by extreme weather in 2010 and into the spring of 2011.
Dozens of local growers and politicians gathered at Burr Farms in east Ladner for a press conference in which federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and B.C. Minister of Agriculture Don McRae announced up to $5 million for two new AgriRecovery initiatives to help vegetable, cattle and bison producers struck by disaster.
The Feed Assistance and Pasture Restoration Initiative will help livestock producers affected by drought, flooding and wildfires in Bella Coola, Cariboo-Chilcotin and the Central Interior regions, including $14 per acre to reseed pasture land and $1 per cow for each day the animal was required to be off those pastures.
The Excess Moisture Initiative includes $175 per acre for potato and vegetable producers in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island to assist with the costs of restoring water-damaged crop land.
“This includes a payment for the disposal of products spoiled in storage and the cleaning and disinfecting of equipment and storage bins,” Ritz said.
He said the two levels of government are working together “to ensure these producers get the help they need to keep their land productive and help bolster their bottom line.
“We want to ensure that our B.C. producers can get their businesses back on track for 2011 and beyond.”
McRae noted that vegetable growers in the Fraser Valley and parts of Vancouver Island dealt with “severe and excess moisture problems that left many crops sitting in fields, immersed underwater and unavailable for harvest.
“We, not just in British Columbia, but across Canada want to see B.C. food at our farmer’s markets and our local grocery stores, on our dinner tables and at our restaurants.”
Jack Bates is president of the Canadian Horticultural Council and runs Tecarte Farms, a 450-acre potato, blueberry and dairy operation in South Delta.
“Having lived through the devastation in the potato and vegetable industry last season, I appreciate the efforts put forward by all producers, our associations, and both levels of government which led to today’s announcement of assistance,” he said.
Though met with applause, the $175-per-acre funding announcement left some local growers wanting.
“It was short of our expectations,” said Peter Guichon, who runs South Delta’s Felix Farms, the largest grower of potatoes in the province. He had hoped for $300 or $400 per acre.
“But having said that, something is better than nothing,” he added.
Last season Guichon said he left some 9,000 tons of potatoes in the ground. He calculates he could receive $70,000 for his 400 acres of affected land.
Bill Zylmans, who runs the 500-acre W&A Farms in East Richmond, is a member of the working group that negotiated funding with the government.
“It took a long time, it was a tough road for us to haul,” he said. Farmers had originally hoped for $1,200 per acre to represent losses, he said, but after closer examination and negotiations, that number was brought way down.
“It’s not a lot of money, but it is a token of understanding and every little bit helps. As farmers, we’re in deep problems with finding funding anyway.”
Zylmans estimates he lost $500,000 last season, largely due to unharvested seed potatoes, and is thankful he also grows strawberries and other summer vegetables to hedge his losses.
“The hit was a lot harder for some of these Delta guys who really had everything in potatoes or everything in beans,” he said.
He is scheduled to attend follow up meetings to decide how the money will be divided among affected farmers.