It?s bone dry in the Peace Country and our farmers and ranchers are emotionally and financially parched.
As the MP for Prince George-Peace River, the severe drought in the Peace would have been the subject of my efforts regardless of my past in agriculture. Though I believe most constituents are well aware of this, I grew up on the family farm and operated a 3000 acre grain farm until I sold my share to my brother after I entered politics. I am also a past President of the B.C. Grain Producers Association. Therefore, I obviously have a first-hand connection with the struggles Peace farmers and their families are currently facing.
For those not familiar with the industry, I want to convey to you, as I have to my colleagues in Ottawa, that this is no trivial dry spell. This is a severe extended drought. Many areas of the Peace have had precipitation at 50 percent of historical levels. Forage and crop production is well below average. Ranchers are either selling off their herds or are contemplating it because of insufficient feed.
On farm water supply shortages are alarming. If the remainder of the fall and this winter don?t provide enough precipitation we?ll be facing even worse drought conditions next year.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) has been working with local producers and municipalities to address water supply concerns in the short- and long-term. PFRA contributes up to $5000 towards the cost of on-farm water projects, such as wells, dugouts, water storage systems, and pipelines. PFRA is also contributing to multi-user water projects. In the Peace District this has created emergency pumping programs, dugouts, three miles of pipeline and a water tank-loader.
The first line of defence for grain and oilseed producers is production insurance. I?m informed that more than 78 percent of BC producers are insured through PI. Forage, grain and oilseed producers in Peace country will receive roughly $6.2-million in PI payments for the 2006-07 crop year.
The Canadian Agricultural Income Stabilization Program (CAIS) protects producers against drops in farm income for reasons beyond their control. Once the provincial government has completed its yield projections, the BC government will apply to CAIS under a sectoral advance for all grain producers. For ranchers, the Conservative Government is currently working on some special tax measures to provide more immediate relief.
Since we took office in February, we added an additional $1.5-billion in funding for farmers in our budget and we accelerated delivery of $755-million in grains and oilseeds payments. We are also looking at other emergency measures. In fact throughout the summer and fall months, the provincial and federal Ministers of Agriculture have been continuously working to evaluate what kinds of financial assistance are necessary.
I know these discussions have intensified in the past several weeks. And my staff and I have been in regular ? sometimes daily ? contact with federal Agriculture Minister Chuck Strahl and BC Agriculture Minister Pat Bell and their respective staff. As Minister Strahl stated in a recent interview, we will ?make sure that farmers aren?t stuck.? Stay tuned.