Alberta ranchers get relief package of $136M from province to help with drought conditions

The Alberta government is giving $136 million of financial relief to livestock producers and beekeepers, after drought conditions and the pandemic took a toll on the industry.

Premier Jason Kenney said at a press conference on Friday that the money is part of the AgriRecovery program — which combines efforts of the federal and provincial governments.

According to a release issued Friday, the federal government agreed to $100 million for immediate relief for Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Alberta.

However, the province is hoping that Ottawa will provide $204 million, for a combined relief package of $340 million.

Kenney says Alberta livestock producers are a huge part of the province’s identity as well as its prosperity.

“Last year alone, Alberta’s animal production contributed $479 million to our economy, and we saw the second best year on record for Alberta egg producers,” said the premier.

However, record-breaking dry days have contributed to severe drought conditions.

“This new money and these changes won’t solve all the problems created by drought conditions in parts of the province, but they will give farmers and ranchers some room to breathe and hopefully a bit of peace of mind,” he said.

The relief will give ranchers $94 per head, which can help cover feed and water for breeding females.

Changes to grazing, water

In order to help livestock producers access more water and food for animals, Alberta Environment and Parks will open up public land for grazing.

Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks, says the ministry will start accepting applications immediately from existing grazing disposition holders in need.

“Alberta Environment and Parks will be opening up public land across the province to work with graziers … to get as much access to feed in areas where we do have grass available for the industry,” he said.

And for producers in drought areas, Nixon says the ministry will speed up approval of water licences and access.

Livestock producers interested in the program can call 310-FARM (3276) to be connected with support. Nixon says the department will respond in three business days.

Ranchers selling off herds 

Earlier this week, Bob Lowe, president of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, told CBC News this should have been a year to put some profit back in the industry — but then the drought happened.

“You can imagine what that’s doing to the mindset of a lot of people,” he said.

In the cattle sector, it’s led some livestock producers to face the difficult decision to start selling off their herds into a depressed market. 

The situation comes on the heels of the financial hit that ranching took last year when COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing plants led to costly cattle backlogs.

“Emotionally, this is really affecting a lot of people,” Lowe said.

Farmers in the western provinces are struggling to feed their cattle due to drought conditions. (Terry Reith/CBC)

This week, Rocky View County, which surrounds much of Calgary, declared an “agricultural disaster,” highlighting “one of the worst growing seasons in recent memory.”

In recent days, Vulcan County, Foothills County, Greenview, the County of St. Paul and Lac Ste. Anne County, among others, have also declared agricultural disasters.

Alberta’s most recent crop report, issued at the end of July, said over 50 per cent of the pasture acres in the province were rated as poor.

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