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.

“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.

“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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