Regional ag disaster approach requested

Thirteen rural municipalities in Alberta declared states of agriculture disaster this year but they didn’t trigger financial aid

Thirteen Alberta municipalities declared they were in a state of agricultural disaster this year due to excessive moisture that accumulated this year and the previous two years, hindering crop seeding, development and harvest.

Precipitation in some areas was 150 percent of the long-term average in 2020 alone, and for some municipalities, this was the second consecutive year when an agricultural disaster had been officially declared.

Such declarations bring attention to a problem, but they don’t trigger any additional financial support to farmers.

A resolution passed at the recent Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention directs the RMA to lobby the province to review supports for farmers when an agricultural disaster is declared, ask it to develop additional programs to enhance support and also ask it to take a regional approach to declaring ag disasters so reserve funds could be released.

It was brought forward by Leduc County, which declared a state of ag disaster this year and in 2019.

The RMA has a guide that helps municipalities decide whether to declare a state of agricultural disaster. Among its information is this: “A common misperception is that a municipal declaration of an agricultural disaster will influence a provincial declaration or access to funding supports. This is simply not the case. Municipal declarations bring awareness to an issue in a specific area of the province, but they do not trigger a provincial declaration or access to any funding to support the issue.”

RMA president Paul McLauchlin reiterated the goal of bringing attention to a problem.

“We use it as a communications method, to let the government know, so it’s a way for us to communicate to other levels of government, both federal and provincial,” he said.

As it stands, farmers get access to support funds from the province only if the government declares a provincial state of agricultural disaster, which would be a rare occurrence given the size and diversity of Alberta.

“This year is a perfect example,” McLauchlin said, of central regions too wet and southern regions on the dry side.

“It is appreciated that the Government of Alberta must make decisions with respect to the entire province,” the resolution read.

“It would be an extremely rare and serious situation if the entire province suffered an agricultural disaster; it is more common that specific regions within Alberta will experience adverse conditions that would warrant a declaration of disaster.

“If the Government of Alberta were able to declare a region of the province as an area of agricultural disaster, this should allow for the release of reserve funds to aid farmers in that region.”

If that had been the case this year, McLauchlin said, it likely would have been triggered for the 13 municipalities who suffered adverse conditions.

However, such a change would require new legislation.

The RMA resolution will be supplied to government, specifically the agriculture and forestry department, as well as any relevant others. The RMA will then lobby further.

Twenty resolutions were passed at the recent RMA fall convention, ranging from police matters and fire bans to plans for a blue-ribbon panel to address unpaid taxes by oil and gas companies.

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