Farmers lash out against Ducks Unlimited drainage ads

Radio ads that claim “drainage hurts” may be hurting the reputation of Ducks Unlimited in eastern and central Saskatchewan.

The organization has recently run radio ads suggesting agricultural drainage contributed to the flooding of three million acres of farmland and the evacuation of the hospital in Melville, Sask., this summer.

Listen to the radio ads here:

 

 

They provoked a hostile response on Twitter as Saskatchewan farmers fired back.

Ken Sarauer, who farms near Annaheim, Sask., wrote: “New question for all those looking to hunt on my land: Do you support/donate to Ducks Unlimited? If yes, then find someplace else to hunt.”

A farmer from Yorkton tweeted: “Hey Ducks Unlimited, you know what hurts more than drainage, going hungry! Don’t bite the hands that feed you!”

Michael Champion, head of government relations for Ducks Unlimited in Saskatchewan, said the Twitter comments were distressing.

“Some of the things I’ve seen … I am surprised by. I haven’t seen language like that in my 11 or 12 years working for the company,” he said.

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“Where the backlash is coming from, I really don’t know. We’ve got an excellent working relationship with … thousands of private individuals that are actively engaged in agriculture.”

The radio spot opens with comments from actors, possibly portraying farmers, saying drainage doesn’t hurt anyone. It goes on to say that, “drainage hurts. Wetland drainage contributes to flooding and Ducks Unlimited Canada needs you.”

A deluge dumped 150 to 200 millimetres of rain on eastern Saskatchewan and western Manitoba in late June, flooding fields and overloading creeks and rivers.

Manitoba farmers, politicians and conservation groups blamed unchecked agricultural drainage in Saskatchewan for the severity of the flooding.

Sarauer said the radio ads provoked his tweet.

“What makes me mad about Ducks Unlimited is the media uses them as a source for information,” he said.

“They’re just as biased as I am biased…. I think everyone assumes they are a neutral third party. When they advertise on the radio like that, I think people believe what they say.”

Sarauer said the amount of rain during the growing season has changed dramatically in recent years. It’s unfair to say drainage is responsible for the flooding.

“(Before), if we got six inches (150 mm) of rain in a year, it was a drought. If it was eight to 10 (inches, 200 to 250 mm), it was average,” he said.

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“Lately, we’ve been getting 20 inches (500 mm) per year.”

Champion said drainage didn’t cause this summer’s flooding, but it was a factor.

“We’ve been clear on that. The rain is what caused the flooding,” he said.

“(But) the science and research that we’ve seen has shown that wetland drainage is additive to flooding events…. In moderate to normal flood events, drainage is able to push that up to be a little more severe.”

Champion said it’s no secret that Ducks Unlimited supports wetland conservation, so the reaction to the advertising campaign is odd.

Still, the organization’s communication staff reached out to the outspoken farmers to understand the source of their frustration.

“We’re pro-agriculture,” Champion said.

“That’s the thing we always stand up and say: we’re for everyone making an honest living on the landscape…. Rural Saskatchewan is where our roots are and we are working diligently to keep our relationships … (with) our partners on the landscape.”

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  • Patricia

    Drainage does not contribute to all of the flooding encountered this last year however I have seen first hand thousands of acres flooded by displaced water off neighbouring farmers land which had been drained this however causes many neighbouring farmers lost acres imput and revenue. And yes the drainage carries fertilizer herbacides and pesticides with it it is a huge concern and action should be taken to promote larger yield management off existing productive land not creating more which may not nessasarily have the best possible yield to begin with. Drainage doesn’t guarantee more profit but it does guarantee some degree of negative impact on the environment and other agricultural producers

    • Scott

      Drainage DOES guarantee more profit. Often the bottom of those wetlands are the most productive soil on the field. And there are many negative environmental impacts from leaving ‘wetlands’ on productive fields. Eg. Over applied fertilizer/pesticides from the overlap of going around them. Applying fertilizer to them and seeding because they’re dry only to have them flood out later…

      • Tash

        Drainage may guarantee a better profit and deal with the “environmental issue” of overlapped chemical and fertilizer. However, do you ever stop to look at the BIGGER picture. While you are gaining profit from draining your land, you are actually helping to do more damage else where.
        When you drain your land, the culverts in our roads are not equipped to handle that excess water, so roads start to flood and wash out. This in the end can cause taxes in your Municipality to go up to cover repairs, therefor costing you money.
        Your water does go onto someone else’s land, and if they do not drain, or happen to have land that is not drain-able, then they are left with all your water. And last nut not least, all your fertilizer and chemical that is in the run off that is running in your drainage ditches, and off your land.

      • Joseph Bourgault

        Hi Scott,

        I am a Farmer myself and I do not drain my wetlands onto my neighbors, even though if I did those lands would be highly productive farmlands. The reason I do not drain my farmlands is because I reason and feel that I do NOT have a God given Right to drain my water, (i.e. potholes and sloughs) onto my Farm Neighbors! Nor do I have a Right to drain on people in Manitoba for that matter.

        Stop and think about it for a minute… “Do not onto others what you would not have them do onto you.” – Confucius Jesus said it this way “Do unto others as you would have them do onto you”.

  • Eugene makeschuk

    Pro-agriculture I think not come see my pasture and farm land flooded because du neglects to maintain there water ways and when asked for help they slanderd myname to 4 departments of government.900,000.00 of taxpayers money,115000.00 from my crown corporation sask power handed to this vermin(DU) funny I should feed the hands of those who contribute to the disruction of my lively hood.

  • Kathy

    The name of the organization, “Ducks Unlimited” says it all. It is interested in duck production through protection and in the past, development of areas for propagation of ducks. Look out if you stand in the way of its initiatives.

  • Sorry this is a long reply- we are really sorry if people feel our ads are shedding a negative light on agriculture which is why DUC contacted the Western Producer regarding people upset with our ads. I am the Communications contact for the Province of Sask, so please feel free to contact me or the office. People are surprised to learn that we initiated this story and I am replying as to why. We are pro-AG just not pro-drainage. With the flooding events of the past 5 years and what is predicted to come, it is time to stop the bleed before it gets worse. That is the goal of the campaign. To motivate the government of Saskatchewan to be pro-active and revise the policy to a new one which is more effective. The suggestions (our ask) is at the URL http://www.ducks.ca/drainagehurts. People are angry at the “radio clip news headlines” used in the ads and are surprised when they learn that they are actual word for word media headlines from this Summer. DUC has the science proving that drainage is an additive to the magnitude of flooding because it increases water volume, and I’m sure you all know that. It is common sense. So for the article to state we are “suggesting that drainage causes flooding”, is incorrect. We are stating that wetland drainage contributes to flooding and combined with the excess precipitation, it magnifies the extent of flooding (as we said in this interview). Why we have the “news bits” in our ads is because numerous media outlets. In fact the writer of this exact article above, published this one in May 2014 http://www.producer.com/2014/05/sask-drainage-causing-downstream-flooding-manitoba/ and there have been more. Many media have ran basically the same headlines we are using in our campaign and we wanted to include the headlines in our advertising so people remember that Spring 2015 is around the corner. Our campaign is designed to encourage people to go to the URL where we have all the information available. Currently it is stated that it is illegal to drain land in Saskatchewan unless you have proper WSA authority but many continue to drain. Many times it is onto someone else which then hinders their operations. This is causing serious issues in parts of Saskatchewan and we are addressing the problem and asking for a solution. DUC feels that everyone has a right to farm the land they own, but if someone is being flooded out because of not only the rain but because someone else chose to move the water off their land and send it downstream… that isnt right. Draining onto others is not the Saskatchewan way. We are a province built on the values of our great grandparents who firmly believed that neighbors help neighbors, it is so sad to know that there are people who are intentionally draining their water onto others. Something has to change before it gets much worse. That is the message we are trying to send by this campaign but unfortunately it doesn’t fit in a 30 second commercial. I hope that maybe my reply has shed some light onto our reasons regarding the campaign. Eugene, I personally do not look after projects but would be happy to look into any that are an issue around your home/land. We value all your opinions so please email us at du_regina@ducks.ca if you would like. Thank you for reading my reply and I am sorry it was so long.

    • Julie

      The problem, Chelsea, is actually larger than this. What DU is doing is asking farmers to, quite literally, take a financial hit with the flooding. Yes, there has been a lot of rain. Heck, we moved to the Yorkton area four years ago, right as the worst of the rains started coming. We’ve been hit with two floods, a plow wind, severe snow storms, etc. We’ve had the flooding come within meters of our house twice, and we are sitting on top of three different watersheds! Three! The severity of the water levels is from the rain, but commercials like these are simply adding oil to the fire, so to speak. In marketing terms, you could have chosen a better time to air that commercial. Farmers out here have had nothing but troubles the past few years, and right now, more water in the fields means even more troubles. And we all know that these troubles mean reduced income, again. Yes, climate change is here. Yes, reducing draining will help flooding in the future, and reduce chemical runoff. However, the farmers are not getting the prices they need for their products to be comfortably looking at how they can help others. This is quite simply the direct result of our North American mindset that everyone needs food, cheap. Reality is that cheap food for the consumer trickles down the line to nearly no money for the producer. Is this how we are supposed to feed the world? By taking the blame for everything, and then being required to take the blame for the climate change as well? At least the consumers are being paid wages for what they do. We’re lucky to break even on our costs most years, not including our hours. Unfortunately, as we learned the very hard way, farmers are no longer following your “Saskatchewan way”. Despite our best efforts, the way we’ve been forced into seeing is “everyone out for themselves”. Unfortunately, that’s the new agricultural way out here…

      • Chelsea

        HI Julie, we see exactly what you have described and which is why we are pushing for solutions that will benefit everyone. It may have been poorly timed, but the Govt is gearing up to campaign and everyone who is suffering deserves to be heard. We are trying to offer people a voice and are willing to take some backlash during the process. I would like you to contact me please by calling the Regina office (this section wont let me post my phone or email?) we need to work together as a province and bring all opinions and circumstances together to present and state that something needs to change. We encourage each of you to please call me at 1-866-252-DUCK (3825).
        thank you

      • Joseph Bourgault

        Hi Julie, I too am a Farmer. But I grew up with parents who taught me to never intentionally do harm to others. Consequently I do my best to lead by example. Farmers…most who are very common sense people… know that we DO NOT have the right to drain our potholes and sloughs down onto our neighbors…yet SOME Farmers do this… and some have been doing so for decades now… some with impunity! Fed up with this in recent years, those who have been having their farmlands and homes flooded out by their upstream Farm Neighbors are speaking out and rightly so. DUC is simply Taking a Stand for many Farmers who have not had a Voice and I am grateful to DUC for doing so. From 2008 to 2012 farm prices have been the strongest they have been in decades and what did some Farmer I know do? They increased their drainage! Look at all the new drainage equipment in the Green Book. Any sign of a slow down with un-natural and most often illegal drainage? The only thing that will slow this down if it is exposed what it is…illegal and un-natural drainage and it is not only illegal and un-natural but also immoral and or un-ethical. It is a matter of Principle: That no Farmer (and no person) has a Right to drain his potholes and sloughs onto his Farm Neighbors.” The only way this will stop is if the Provincial Government acts to “Enforce illegal and un-natural drainage by placing stricter regulations against illegal drainage and stiff financial fines/penalties on those who are draining farm lands illegally”. And the only way that Politicians will act is if enough “Good People” with Courage speak about this publicly. This has nothing to do with “Beating Up on Farmers”, at least not with those Good Farmers who are doing the right thing and who respect their neighbors. This has nothing to do with blaming Farmers for Climate Change. Climate Change is caused; #1 by dirty coal fired power plants here in Saskatchewan, in Canada and in every Country in the World that burns coal. It is time to replace coal with cleaner energy, i.e. solar and wind with natural gas backup and this is a great opportunity for All Farmers if we had some leadership in our Federal and Provincial Governments on this important matter. #2 by vehicle emissions and so everyone who drives a vehicle, me included, contributes to Climate Change. And so our Governments must continually increase Vehicle Emission Standards to continually reduce pollution from the tail pipes of any fossil fuel machine and further our Governments must support R&D for battery powered and hydrogen fuel vehicles to replace fossil fuel vehicles. #3 – by cutting down our forests which consume carbon dioxide and convert it to oxygen and carbon/trees. Governments must regulate to stop the destruction of our forests, i.e. Sustainable Forestry Regulations, and pay Farmers for protecting their Forests rather than encouraging more destruction of our forests for farmlands. “Cheap food” is caused by “Over Production”. We do it to ourselves as Farmers when we grow more food than the World can consume. When grain production goes up as happened in 2013 the natural consequence is that grain prices go down. The Solution: Reduce Production. Further more this “Feed the World” mantra is an illusion. We are chronically over producing and the evidence is that grain prices are lower because of it. What Farmers must do is reduce production inputs, save ourselves some money, and as we reduce inputs grain prices will increase. This is not complicated, but it does require for us to stop and think about the natural consequences of our actions.

        • Julie

          Hi Joseph,
          That’s what my parents taught me, too. And as such, we don’t drain either. But we are very much affected by others blocking the natural water runs, so that the land they drained won’t have any water going into it, and whatever rain does come goes out. We’ve been hit with the double whammy of both rain and ignorance, so to speak! lol Our neighbors out here have forgotten how to work together, and I’m pretty sure it’s not too much different elsewhere. And while I feel for the Manitoba farmers, I don’t believe that they have never drained, either. They do live on natural floodplains, and it didn’t become arable land all by itself. We as farmers just have to really start working together in order to fix anything, and as long as we keep going as we have been, it will keep benefiting everyone else, and we’ll keep getting the dirty end of the stick.

          Maybe a system in which higher product prices reward those farmers that look after their land properly?

          Just an idea.

          • Jen

            Just to enlighten you Julie…all of us Manitoba producers that are being flooded out do not live on natural flood plains. Some of us live in the “normally” most driest corner of MB. We have creeks yes that carry water which comes from Saskatchewan. Unfortunately these creeks have become raging rivers that overflow their banks and have been running year round the past few years. Normally the only time they run is after spring melt. There is nothing flood plain about our area.

            Its really simple, illegal drainage is illegal. Start handing out fines to those who do not obey the rules set forth. The only way it seems to get their attention is through their pocket books.

    • Joseph Bourgault

      Hi Chelsea,

      I am a Farmer WHO DOES NOT drain his farmlands onto his Farm Neighbors and nor do to my neighbors in Manitoba.

      I am very grateful to Ducks Unlimited for having the COURAGE to take on a Stand on the Principle: No person has a right to drain his water onto his neighbor whether that neighbor is next door or 500 miles away.

      I will continue to give money to DUC, I currently give a small monthly donation of $10 and would consider giving more if DUC needed it. I am giving you $10 a month because I support the Courage and Principled Stand which DUC has taken on illegal and un-natural drainage mostly by Farmers who place profits ahead of respect for their neighbors who they are flooding out!

  • “All truth passes passes through three stages.
    First, it is ridiculed.
    Second, it is violently opposed.
    Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”
    – Arthur Schopenhauser
    Grrman philosopher (1788-1860)

    I have seen first hand the effects of farmland drainage into southwestern Manitoba. Every year it gets worse. The cattails are winning out ,in many fields, and are growing in the water- filled ditches ,for long stretches of gravel roads. The municipalities will have to figure out some way to remove them before the road is completley ruined.
    I feel sorry for the farmers who losing more and more acres of the agricultural land because of what is happening upstream.

    • Joe Widdup

      Your quote about truth is correct. It is an apt description of the philosophy of the drainage deniers in my area.
      1. We don’t need drainage because average rainfall in SK is low and it will get dry again eventually. Four years of flooding and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost production later we start to agree that drainage is necessary.
      2. Drainage is opposed by DU and people who don’t understand that it is a necessary practice in farming.
      3. Proper outlets, control structures, ditches, and tile, are installed and regulated by the government for the continuation of profitable farming. Water boards, municipalities, C&Ds, WABs, the WSA and farmers all get on board with drainage because it is the plainly obvious and correct thing to do.

  • Tash

    Drainage is not the main cause of flooding in Saskatchewan, but it sure is not helping the situation Mother Nature has handed us.
    As much as people have come to believe that draining their land gives them a higher profit, they do not stop to look at the bigger picture. Drainage puts more strain on culverts already overloaded with excess rain. This causes damage to roads, which leads to higher taxes to help pay for the repairs.
    Then there is also all that excess water going onto the land of other farmers and into creeks and lakes. This water causes damage all the way along. And then there is the environmental impact of fertilizer and chemicals in these creeks, that end up in the lakes we fish.
    The list of problems goes on. People need to stop being so self centered, and start looking at everything as a whole.

  • Dan

    I have farmed all my life on property which could have “benefited”from drainage but chose to obey the rules, not creating illegal ditches. We have definitely suffered economic losses as a direct result of illegal drainage practices from loss of acres ,loss of access and higher taxes levied to pay for damages to rural infrastructure.
    Drainage is a disease of the greedy and self deluded individuals who care nothing for anyone or thing but themselves.

  • Jay

    Our farm went through ALL the legal hoops to remove some water from our land years ago. In fact our farm is only ONE of THREE in our central Saskatchewan Municipality which legally removed water from their lands. All other farmers for greed purposes “illegaly ditched” their water with zero interest in where it went nor the same interest in what that water did after it left their lands. My farm has lost good crop, hay and pasture land to all the illegal water from so called upstream farmers (some even have previous comments here).
    Call a spade a spade : illegal ditching by any other name is still illegal and it surely does add to all the problems of flooding down stream no matter where.
    that water goes (Saskatchewan to Manitoba to USA to the gulf of Mexico).
    Add your illegal ounce here and see the multiplication factors it has further
    “downstream”. Wake up you illegal ditchers and DAM IT now!

  • ed

    Until now I didn’t think anyone paid any attention to this online format. Although not many, it is not zero obviously. There is hope!
    On drainage you need to enforce and fine heavy eg. ($50,000/acre) for illegal drainage, charge for legal drainage eg. ($5-10,000/acre) and reward eg. ($10-20,000/acre) for new and proved retention, higher where it is more beneficial. Just don’t do it to the point that the rivers run dry. Problem solved. It’s just math. The urbanites don’t want too much water flooding their banks, but they don’t want to lose their river view either.

  • Jen

    It amazes me the lack of common sense of some people and the utter disregard for the livelihoods of fellow producers. I know this because my husband and I farm in MB only a few miles from the Sask border. I work in Saskatchewan in the Ag industry just over the border and see every day the illegal drainage that is occurring. I see fields just over the border in Sask that have obvious depressions that should be filled to the brim with water but sit empty and dry. Meanwhile you cross the border and there are sloughs running from one to another, the creeks are still flowing. We have farmers who are digging huge trenches with backhoes that you could loose a pick up truck in, in order to move water off their fields, you can not tell me that this does not aid in the severity on the flood. When you take away wetlands you take away part of the holding capacity of that land. And when you have trenches you increase the rate and speed of that flow.

    In fact, when the flood at the end of June occurred “the drainers” were out cutting approaches 10 feet wide, 6 feet deep, trying to move water off their fields. On the east side of the border there were still people trying to save their homes and yards. So unbelievably sad that people can be that greedy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not so much a province thing. Some Saskatchewan farmers are being drowned out too by their own kind.

    Drainage is fine as long as your not the poor sole downstream. There is no doubt the increased rainfall the past few years has caused this. However, when you combine it with the loss of land holding capacity and thus the increase of water flow it is a recipe for the perfect storm. Us downstreamers have put up with it for too long and in being respectful producers have tried to be neighbourly and live with it. But guess what, when your livelihood and all you have worked for is being washed away year after year it starts to eat you up. There needs to be regulations put in place and fines handed out and it needs to start happening now!

    For all of you that say drainage has done nothing to cause this situation I invite you out to SW MB to see first hand what it has done. It’s not about blaming the farmer, it’s about blaming those farmers who have shown no regard for their fellow producers in order to help line their own pockets. We have enough of our own water we don’t need any of theirs.

    • Jon

      We’ve seen your trenches also

  • Larry

    I know for a fact that the reason Big Quill lake is over flowing is because of farmers draining land for the last 20 years. I see acres that should not be farmed being put into production. Maybe Sask crop insurance should get involved in monitoring these “wet lands”, whereas premiums are going up to pay for flooded acres.

    • Jay

      Larry:
      Ye all are rather quite thin on the age of drainage into Quill Lakes. That began in the 1950s. 60 years ago. I know because I reside along one of their feeders.
      There have been years since the early 1970s when this creek begins running at snow melt and rus like in 2010-11 until mid January.

      • Larry

        Jay:
        I live south of highway 16 and have so for 75 years. I know producers in the area that have been draining land for 30 years. Drive to the Dafoe junction and look to the south and tell me that water isn’t coming to the north. All I am saying is that, when is the Sask water authority going to start doing something about things like drainage, beavers etc?

  • Robert

    Duck’s ads say it like it is
    Drainage of wetlands does contribute to flooding
    We know we’re down stream & we get other producers
    Unwanted water

  • Chelsea

    Hi. These comments and conversation is exactly what DUC would like to deliver to the Provincial Government.
    We need tangible letters from people who are voicing their concerns on drainage and asking for a solution. All your above replies are fantastic and if it is at all possible, can you email us them in an email: du_regina@ducks.ca with the email caption “Letter to the Government re: Drainage”.
    Thank you

  • Rob

    First of all, when I am critical of farmers, it is directed toward those narcissistic “everyone out for themselves” individuals, who have no regard for for the impact their drainage practices has on their neighbours, both near and far. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the dedication and work ethic that they display as they produce food stuffs to feed the world.

    There seems to be a common thread that emerges when I read the tweets and comments expressed by the drainage advocates in response to the article on the DU drainage ad. Comments like: effective drainage system, sophisticated drainage infrastructure, undrained/untitled land is next to useless, and put the farmer in charge of drainage-they are the experts. I think what they really mean could be summed up if they were to add the suffix, “on my land,” to the previous statements. When confronted with the damage their drainage has caused to a neighbour, their response is often a flippant, “well get rid of it like I did.”

    Then there is the classic, “blame the victim” scenario. People settle on flood prone acres, or everyone knows it’s a flood plain. It is these people that DU is standing up for when they run an ad critical of uncontrolled drainage.

    When is the government going to recognize the fact that it is going to have to step in and put a stop to the uncontrolled, unregulated, and unwarranted drainage? They sit back and observe the damage being done, and seem unwilling to put regulations in place that would in any way effect the “sacred cow” that is the ag sector.

  • Ducks Unlimited Canada- Sask

    To everyone on this forum: DUC
    Sask is collecting all these responses and will be presenting to Gov’t
    officials. We would also like to present emails from the public regarding
    wetland drainage. If you would be able to take the time to write to us at du_regina@ducks.ca
    we would love to hear from you and present your email. Our goal is goal is to encourage a conversation with the
    government that highlights the risks associated with wetland drainage and the
    impacts those risks present to Saskatchewan residents. We all want to find
    solutions to this complicated issue and everyone’s opinions are welcome. Thank you and please call 306-359-2233 if you have
    any concerns or questions. Your email will remain in original context and
    will not be altered in anyway.