Alberta plans to use federal funding from AgriRecovery to help cattle producers, with an initial payment of $94 per head to be made immediately.
The provincial government announced its program shortly after the feds committed $100 million to help producers in drought-affected Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia and Ontario cover feed and water costs.
Alberta plans to seek more money under the program, which is funded 60-40 by the federal and provincial governments. It is committing $136 million and asking Ottawa to contribute $204 million.
The province is also asking the feds to help cover a $106-per-head package to producers expected to be available through a receipt-based system later this year.
According to Alberta Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen, the additional funding is contingent on the federal government coming up with its share. He was non-committal on whether the province would release its funding if the feds didn’t come through.
“We are hopeful the federal government takes this seriously and understands the need of our livestock sector. Not just in the Prairies but also in B.C. and Ontario,” Dreeshen said.
According to the Western Stock Growers’ Association and Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association, details for the initial payment are still being hammered out.
“Going 60 days with no rain and 30 C heat and then getting a half-inch — there is still going to be a lot of guys who go broke,” said WSGA president Callum Sears.
National cattle inventories have been in decline for the last 15 years, a trend Sears said will be exacerbated by this year’s drought.
“Our cow herd is going to decrease no matter what the details are of this program. $94 now and $106 later — maybe — is not going to cut it for a lot of guys,” he said.
AGLA president Kyle Forbes said producer groups are still working with the province to develop an eligibility framework for the assistance package. The aim is to minimize reductions in herds.
“We almost have to have the sense of eternal optimism that next year will be better and that’s all we can hope for at this point. And hope we are able to receive some assistance,” said Forbes.
Alberta also announced plans to open some public lands for grazing, ease water access and work to keep pastures open longer along the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
Both provincial and federal opposition parties criticized the AgriRecovery announcement, saying it was too little and too late.
In a written statement, Alberta NDP agriculture critic Heather Sweet said support came only after weeks of proposals from industry.
“The (United Conservative Party) simply took too long to act. Now, as ranchers decide how much of their herd to cull, they will be forced to wait for financial assistance.”
Federal Conservative agricultural critic Lianne Rood blamed the Liberals for delays.
“While the Liberal government turns a blind eye to the crisis affecting western producers, provincial governments have been forced to do the heavy lifting on their own,” Rood said. “Faced with catastrophic damage and no assurance for future recovery, the Liberals announcing a $100-million top-up is a blow to any hope for producers.”
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