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Flooding affecting Manitoba's farm economy

Roughly three million acres have been destroyed by flooding.
Roughly three million acres have been destroyed by flooding.

Jill Colton, staff writer

July 15, 2011 — Manitoba's largest farm organization says the losses from this spring's flooding equal around $1 billion dollars.

Experts estimate the floods have cost the province around $1 billion dollars in lost revenue.
Experts estimate the floods have cost the province around $1 billion dollars in lost revenue.

The Keystone Agricultural Producers held their annual meeting Thursday in Brandon and one thing's for certain - economic losses related to spring flooding is on everyone's mind.

According to Doug Chorney, President of Keystone Agricultural Producers, around three million acres haven't been seeded because of excessive moisture -- this is about 20 to 25 per cent arable acres across the province.

Although the report hasn't come down yet, Chorney says there's also damage from heavy rainfall throughout the spring -- “but I suspect it would be a few hundred thousand more acres.”

A conservative estimate would equate to about $1 billion dollars in financial losses to the economy based on three million acres destroyed by excessive moisture.

However, the flooding is still ongoing for several areas including the Lake Manitoba shoreline. Additionally, large flows of water are still rushing into the Souris River and then pushing into the Assiniboine and through the Portage Diversion into Lake Manitoba.

The flooding has signficantly impacted farmers.
The flooding has signficantly impacted farmers.

Major rainfall throughout western Canada is also inundating the watershed. “We may not get through this before the end of the year because there's just not enough capacity in the watershed to take all this precipitation,” warns Chorney.

Officials say other industries in Manitoba such as transportation and food processing will also be significantly impacted.

Despite the losses, some farmers remain optimistic. But those that have experienced more than one year of devastated crops are not so hopeful.

Chorney says in the northern Interlake around Arborg and Riverton areas, some farmers haven't sown even one acre in four years. “They are expecting people to exit the industry, because four years of zero crop production exceeds the support that business risk management tools can provide.”

This is devastating for communities, as some of these farms have been in business for nearly 100 years.

By and large, the southwestern region is the worst hit this year. In fact, some crops in Souris have not been able to seed anything at all.

Walter Finlay, who farms near Souris, says he's supposed to be cropping more than 3,300 acres and has nothing sowed, which means more than $200,000 in lost income.

He says most of his land has been submerged for months, and there's a good chance next year's crop won't happen.

Although Chorney believes it's too early to tell if next year's crops will be a write-off, officials are keeping a close eye on the Lake Manitoba area.

The shoreline of Lake Manitoba has expanded in a big way. Experts have noted there's been a few feet of elevation changes, translating into thousands of acres of land that are now under water.

“We recently took an aerial tour and you could see the new shoreline and you could see roads leading into the lake and fence posts underwater -- the water may be shallow, but even two feet (of water) is too much for crop growth.”

Lake Manitoba continues to fill up at an unprecedented rate, and there's no drainage system in place to release the water quickly. There's also the natural channel obstructed with an outlet at Fairford, making seepage even more challenging.

”They're so far behind, it would take years to drain the water that's come in in the last six months.”

To try and resolve the problem, the government now has engineers designing a channel that could be artificially dug to reconnect Lake Manitoba to Lake Winnipeg. This would increase the outflow capacity to try and release the water.

At the beginning of July, the federal government announced they would cost share the $194 million agriculture recovery program with the province on a 60/40 percentage.

However, they haven't officially signed off on the program as of yet. “'We're asking the federal government to move as quickly as they can to complete the process assessment and support that program.”

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