A light sprinkle of rain fell as the first two truckloads of alfalfa-timothy hay from Ontario arrived at Merlis Wiebe’s farm northeast of Osler, Sask., on Sept. 10.
They are part of Hay West, a new program from Mennonite Disaster Service to help drought-affected farmers in Saskatchewan.
The initiative is a repeat of 2012 Hay East, which saw Saskatchewan farmers send hay to drought-stricken livestock producers in Ontario and parts of Quebec through MDS.
“We really appreciate what Saskatchewan did for us at that time. They donated a lot of hay and we felt (we could return) the deed now that it’s dry in Saskatchewan,” said Henry Weber, an MDS volunteer and retired beef producer from Heidelberg, Ont.
“It’s our Christian duty to help each other.”
The program, which has been organized between the Ontario and Saskatchewan chapters of MDS, is similar to a national program, also called Hay West, that was organized by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and is shipping hay from the Atlantic provinces by truck and rail to the Prairies.
Mennonite Disaster Service is a network of volunteers, mostly farmers, that address disasters in North America.
It’s primarily focused on helping homeowners who don’t have the means to recover after natural disasters like floods, hurricanes and wildfires. MDS also responds to other kinds of disasters in ways designed to nurture hope, faith and wholeness.
“With that strong agrarian volunteer base, when a disaster like this summer’s drought happens, there’s also, ‘how can we help our neighbour who might be a province or two over?’ ” said Ross Penner, director of MDS Canadian operations in Winnipeg.
“It was one volunteer calling another volunteer, who then accessed the network of volunteers in each province. They talked together and said let’s give this a go,” he said.
Details of the hay drive are not finalized but MDS plans to send 50 truckloads of donated hay to Saskatchewan this fall.
Trucking companies in Ontario are being asked to transport the hay at discounted or no cost.
To get the hay moving west, MDS paid for last week’s initial two loads, including transportation costs.
Ross said hay will be made available to family farms at a cost of 10 cents per pound for dairy grade and seven cents per lb. for beef grade, which will offset the cost of trucking. Donations will also be applied to that cost.
Some trucking companies have already backhauled auctioned prairie cattle to Ontario, said Weber.
“We’re not going to buy any hay at full price. The goal is donated or at least a good chunk donated,” said Daryl Bueckert, who has a farm near Wiebe and is a unit member for MDS in Saskatchewan.
He said applications for Hay West are available on the MDS website and will be assessed by need.
“We’ll see where farmers are at, how much hay they have, how much cattle they’re feeding and if the cattle are their primary source of income.
“Once we’ve approved them, we’ll start shipping hay (directly) to the clients,” Bueckert said.
Weber said Ontario harvested a bumper hay crop this summer. There’s a surplus on the market and several farmers are willing to donate.
However, the need for hay is great throughout the Prairies and MDS expects not every application will receive aid.
Charitable donations toward the cost of transportation can be made through www.MDS.org or mailed to MDS Hay West 2021, 200-600 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, R3P 2J1.
Farmers who want to donate hay can take it to Marhaven Agri Services in Alma, Ont., or call 519-584-4171 for more information. Transportation to Saskatchewan will be arranged from there.
Farmers who want to receive hay can fill out an application form on the MDS Canada website or call 306-342-7921.
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