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Dry heats, fires spark feed and hay shortages for farmers in Bulkley Valley

The shortages are caused by the dry weather and less snow during the winter season
Cows grazing at W Diamond Ranch (W Diamond Ranch).

In all of Eugen Wittwer’s years as a farmer, this summer’s hay shortage in the Bulkley Valley is the worst he’s ever seen.

Wittwer, from W Diamond Ranch near Smithers, has been farming since 1994.

“I’ve never seen it this bad in 30 years,” Wittwer said in an interview with Black Press Media.

The increasing dry weather, summer-over-summer, hasn’t allowed crops to get the moisture they need to survive, he said. Eighty per cent of feed is grown in spring when the weather conditions suit the needs of crops such as hay.

But because of the lack of snow in the winter season, the ground stayed frozen and hard, almost unusable.

“All the snow melted off before the frost in the ground defrosted,” Wittwer said. “That moisture actually ran off from the ground.”

That, mixed with a lack of rain at the beginning of the summer has led to shortages – seen all the way down Highway 16 as far as McBride, he said.

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Meanwhile wildfires have exacerbated the situation.

Many of this year’s wildfires have focused on B.C.’s central and northern Interior, with nearly 290 of the 400 active wildfires burning in the regions as of Tuesday (July 18).

In an update with journalists that day, Agriculture Minister Pam Alexis said she knows that many farmers will be facing hard business decisions that may see them having to sell some of their cattle in the days and weeks ahead.

“Cattle that would normally have an area to graze in don’t have that,” Alexis said, meaning they go into hay fields, disallowing a second cut and impacting future winter stock.

The province is working with the BC Cattlemen’s Association and BC Dairy to identify sources of feed for the producers.

Challenges include that B.C. isn’t the only jurisdiction facing a disruptive wildfire season – other provinces and Washington State face the same predicament.

They are also looking for sufficient hay and feed for animals that have been displaced from the ongoing fires, Alexis confirmed.

The ministry said more details on replenishing stock will be given in the coming days.

Alexis said she’s also been in contact with her federal ministerial counterpart, Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.

The province has since received late participation approval into the AgriStability program, which had an initial April 30 deadline. That since has been extended for those who didn’t apply to get support, Alexis said

As well, interim payments in that program have increased from 50 to 75 per cent.

The government has also applied for federal funding through the AgriRecovery program to help impacted farmers.

“This is not an easy time to be a farmer,” Alexis told reporters, pointing to not just wildfires but the recent flooding and pandemic disruption.

Farmers with questions can call the AgriService BC toll line at 1-888-221-7141.

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