Drought Package Approved in Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan announced a drought aid package that will give ranchers in the driest areas of the province as much as $25 a cow and farmers early payments under crop insurance.

Drought-stricken livestock producers, who have been selling off their herds as they run out of feed and water, will receive $20 million in direct aid payments and $50 million in loans to help retain breeding stock.

Agriculture Minister Clay Serby also announced as much as $150 million in advance crop insurance payments.

Critics were quick to point out there is only $20 million in new funding in the package, announced two weeks after Alberta said it would spend $324 million in cash for its producers.

A second year of drought is withering crops and drying up pasture land in about 30 percent of Saskatchewan, particularly in central and northern areas. Twenty-eight rural municipalities have declared themselves drought disaster areas.

Serby said the province did all it could for farmers, given the province's small $45,000 surplus.

The package will not put the province in a deficit, according to Serby, who said slightly higher than projected oil revenues would fund the aid. Serby did acknowledge farm groups have told him the package isn't enough.

"The criticism will be it's not enough and I wish we had more resources so that we could put more into this area but the reality is we don't," he said.

Tisdale-area producer Bryan Poffenroth said the price of hay is so high right now that the aid won't even feed his 165 head of cattle for a week. He also said the funding is coming too late for many.

"I can see their point that they ain't got a lot of money but the money was what we needed two months ago, not now. People are past the point of return," he said.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said the packaged showed a "lack of vision for the economy of this province."

President Terry Hildebrandt said the package contained nothing for grain producers, who will only get an early crop insurance payment that they would have received later on in the year.

He added that because the province slashed $40 million in agriculture spending in the 2002 budget, the $20 million in new spending won't even restore the cuts.

"This isn't a commitment to agriculture," said Hildebrandt. "There are $50 million in loans here. People in a severe drought don't need another loan right about now."

Marilyn Janke, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, praised a measure in the package that allows farmers' crops to be totally written off by crop insurance if they are too "uneconomical to harvest."

The package announced Monday includes:

- A per-animal payment on breeding herd livestock, including cows, horses, sheep and game animals, for drought areas. The payment is $25, $17 or $12 per animal, depending on the degree of drought;

- A loan program for breeding livestock, offering $50 per animal in drought areas;

- Crop insurance advance payments, allowing customers to access 50 per cent of a projected claim;

- Crop insurance customers whose crop has been appraised as uneconomical to harvest may graze the crop and the salvage value will not be deducted from their claim.

The StarPhoenix

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