Ontario has added the region to relief programs, however eligible costs covered may not help with the most practical needs of area farmers
By Jackie Clark
Recently, Thunder Bay was added to the districts covered under the Northwestern Livestock Emergency Assistance Initiative.
The program previously covered Rainy River and Kenora, Ont. when it was initially announced on July 27.
However, farmers in the Thunder Bay area have been facing severe drought conditions as well.
Dennis Ellchook runs a cow-calf operation in the area, growing alfalfa and timothy for hay, as well as barley, oats, peas and canola.
“It’s been tough,” he told Farms.com. “We’ve been farming this area for 65+ years … I’m the fourth generation. And out of the 45 years that I’ve been farming, I’ve never seen such drought.”
A creek about a mile from Ellchook’s house is completely dry for the first time in those 45 years.
“We usually rotate between four 20-to-30-acre pastures, and we have anywhere between 50 and 60 cattle,” he explained. “We start pasturing by the first of June, and we were already on our third pasture by the end of June.”
In a normal year, cows could eat from the same pasture for four weeks. This year, Ellchook only got a single cut off his alfalfa crop, and only got 50 bales compared to 65 in a typical season.
“I saw rain at the middle of June, I didn’t see a substantial rain until the end of August,” he said.
When it comes to government funding “I was kind of disappointed,” Ellchook said. “Government support went out to the Rainy River district well before Thunder Bay.”
He also thought the programs could have been better targeted to serve the needs of farmers.
“I think people would have rather seen money for digging new wells,” he explained. “They have money for fencing, but you can’t run your animals to a creek to get water, and if the creek is dry then why are you giving money for fencing?”
Funding could have been allocated to more effective methods of accessing and storing water, he added. In terms of feed, coordination and logistics are possible to get hay from southern Ontario, however trucking costs are exorbitant.
Ellchook reached out to companies that said they were providing free transportation and hasn’t heard back.
The companies he has heard from “are looking for like $4000 to get a truck to leave southern Ontario to come to Thunder Bay. So the cost of trucking is double, if not triple, the cost of the material that’s going on the truck. So it’s been pretty hard to chew down bringing the material in,” he explained.
Currently “we’ve got enough hay for a normal winter. But we don’t have enough material to get to winter,” he said. “Normally we don’t start feeding hay until the end of October or first part of November.”
However, because of the drought’s impact on pasture growth, Ellchook had to start supplementing with hay in mid-August.
He needs “a good 50 to 100 bales just to get to winter,” he adds. He’s even cut some of his barley that he would normally sell at the elevator, to store feed for winter.
“We’ve gone from having barley and canola for sale to offset our costs, to just having canola,” Ellchook said. “I don’t have sleepless nights, but I have very stressful days. I’d say this is the most stressful year in 45 years.”
Feed transportation costs and better water solutions should be priorities for support programs for farmers, he said.
Early assistance through Northwestern Livestock Emergency Assistance initiative was administered by Beef Farmers of Ontario, with the remainder of funds made available through AgriCorp.
Under the program, eligible farmers in Rainy River, Kenora and Thunder Bay can receive up to $10,000 to cover costs of water and fencing, including eligible equipment and labour. Click here for program details.
Applications are currently open until October 29, 2021.
Diane Kuhl\iStock\Getty Images Plus photo