Producers in British Columbia are being thrown a $20-million lifeline by the provincial government after being hit by wildfires this summer for the third time in five years.
“The $20-million response package we’ve put together will help B.C. ranchers maintain their breeding stock, continue their operations and continue to supply British Columbians with food grown and raised in our province,” Minister of Agriculture Lana Popham said in a written statement.
It will help pay for extraordinary expenses for everything from feed and shelter to transportation of livestock, along with animal health and safety. Producers are also eligible for help under the 2021 Canada-British Columbia Wildfire and Drought AgriRecovery Initiative, said the statement.
It includes replacing fencing or other critical infrastructure damaged or destroyed by the fires that was not insurable, along with things such as reseeding forage.
Beekeepers are also eligible for funding to replace colonies or equipment.
This year’s wildfires and drought were “definitely too close for comfort” for beef producers, said Kevin Boon, general manager of the B.C. Cattlemen’s Association. He pointed out that “three out of the last five years, we’ve had the three biggest fires in British Columbia history” in 2017, 2018 and 2021.
However, the total area burnt this year has affected a much larger population of producers, he added. Due to the intensity and speed of the wildfires, it was almost impossible to get cattle out of the way, said Boon.
He expected mortalities will “probably be as high or higher than 2017, which was getting up close to a couple thousand head lost in the fires.” He estimated ranchers have lost up to 2,000 kilometres of fence that will cost several million dollars to replace.
B.C. experienced intense heat waves this summer, with the village of Lytton setting a new record for Canada of 49.6 C on June 29, the day before it was destroyed by a wildfire that killed two people.
Although the accompanying drought has compounded the effect of the wildfires, the drought itself has generally been less intense for beef producers in B.C. than elsewhere in Western Canada, said Boon.
Ranchers in the province get most of their feed through irrigation, he said. “But I think we’re going to come out with probably, I’m going to guess around 75 percent of what we would typically have, but we could have enough with carryover inventories from past years and stuff to sneak through without losing too much of our herd.”
Boon expected there will be a cull rate of about 25 percent this year in B.C., up from the typical 12 to 15 percent. The province has about five percent of Canada’s national herd.