by SUSAN MANN
Organizers working to supply drought-stricken Ontario and Quebec farmers with Prairie hay are trying to keep the costs for recipients to less than five cents a pound.
But Glenn Buck, chairman of the Mennonite Disaster Service Ontario branch, says the final costs for recipients aren’t known yet because they’re still looking for donations of hay from farmers in Saskatchewan and Alberta. Some Western farmers are willing to donate surplus hay to the campaign while others will provide hay for a nominal cost and still others want market prices of 15 cents a pound for their hay, Buck explains.
The Mennonite Disaster Service is one of several organizations, including general farm and livestock groups in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Quebec, involved in a campaign to get Western Canadian hay to Ontario and Quebec farmers hit by drought.
The disaster service got the ball rolling after Buck received a call from a Northern Saskatchewan farmer in mid-August wondering what they can do to help drought-stricken Eastern Canadian farmers needing hay for their livestock. The American Mennonite Disaster Service is also conducting a hay drive in the United States to help farmers in the Midwest.
The Canadian effort was announced Wednesday afternoon during the Canadian Federation of Agriculture roundtable meting at the federal, provincial and territorial ministers’ meeting in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Buck says his hope is that Prairie hay will start rolling into Ontario by Sept. 30. The idea is that farmers would pick up their donated hay from a central location.
Ontario farmers needing hay can go to www.hayeast2012.com and register for the amount they need. Organizers will “take a very close look at the applications,” Buck says, noting hay from the campaign likely won’t go to hobby farmers or people with pets.
“What we’re asking for is their farm registration number,” Buck says. “Our goal is to sustain herds, whether they be dairy, beef, goat or whatever.”
Buck says he doesn’t know how much hay Ontario farmers need, “other than to say lots.”
Growers watched pastures wither and dry up this growing season and in many areas of Ontario first cut hay was poor while the windrows of second cut were barely visible in the fields. Many farmers had to start feeding their winter stores leaving nothing for later in the year.
In a Sept. 13 press release, the Ontario Federation of Agriculture says the federal government recently identified 19 drought disaster areas including the counties of Bruce, Dufferin, Grey, Huron, Lanark, Perth, Oxford, Renfrew and Wellington, plus the regions of Halton, Niagara and Waterloo, along with the census divisions of Brant, Haldimand-Norfolk, Hamilton and Ottawa, the United Counties of Prescott/Russell, the District of Parry Sound and the District Municipality of Muskoka.
Buck says the hardest-hit area is the Ottawa Valley, which only got 17 millimetres of precipitation from the beginning of May to the end of July. “That’s borderline desert.”
Also needed are donations of transportation services in both the Prairies and in Eastern Canada as well as cash contributions.
Cash donations can be made at any Canadian Scotiabank branch by asking for the Ontario Federation of Agriculture Hay East campaign, Buck says. Organizers were to finalize the details Friday to enable public donations.
In a Sept. 12 press release, Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Mark Wales called on the federal government’s help to provide public relations, logistics, and AgriRecovery funds to assist with transporting hay from the Prairies.
In an email statement, Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz says they’re looking “at all our available options in these difficult times to assist farmers affected by these conditions.” He also notes they’re “proud of Canadian farmers for helping each other in times of need.”
Mark Cripps, press secretary to Ontario Agriculture Minister Ted McMeekin, says “we thank the farmers from the West for helping out their cousins in Ontario and Eastern Canada.”
The Ontario government is committed to facilitating Hay East as an industry, farmer-led effort, he says.
The Hay East campaign is similar to one in 2002 when Eastern Canadian farmers shipped thousands of bales of hay to help save Western farmers’ herds from starvation. Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan says in a press release the time has come “to give back to the people who helped us when we needed it.” BF