Flooding hits North Sask. ranchers hard

Don Grigo, 72, can’t remember a time ranchers in his area were under more strain.

As a rancher near Meadow Lake, he’s been spared the worst of flooding that’s sunk pastures along Beaver River and seriously affected the area near Highway 165 in North Saskatchewan. Grigo has carry-over feed to weather the impact on his supplies, but he estimates he’s lost a quarter of this year’s hay.

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However, he said, flooding was just another “nail in the coffin” for some ranchers already experiencing hard times in the area due to COVID-19.

On top of that, flooding in the area was at its worst since 1974, recently noted Patrick Boyle, spokesperson for Saskatchewan’s Water Security Agency. He said the water was the result of heavy rain.

That had a wide-ranging impact on the area. Between Meadow Lake, Beaver River, Loon Lake and Parkdale, there are about 15,000 affected mother cows and calves, and up to 8,000 yearlings, estimated Brent Brooks, president of Northern Livestock Sales.

There’s an added cost for ranchers trying to cope with the situation. For them, sending cattle to higher ground in hay fields may mean they can’t bale that feed for later in the year, Brooks said.

“We’ve got many second, third-generation ranchers in our areas. Their livelihood is on the line,” he said.

For many, there’s been little time to think during a flurry of activity tending to roads, dikes and cattle, he said. Last Thursday, dozens of them met for an information meeting with support organizations and a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture.

At that meeting, Arnold Balicki, board chair of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association, heard one attendee describe the rotting smell of a flooded yard. Another described floods popping out fence posts and floating them downstream.

Despite the uncertain times, Balicki noted ranchers will likely absorb some of the costs involved with the flooding.

That comes during a challenging livestock market. There was already a backlog of cattle after COVID-19 reduced capacity at meat plants. That meant calves that would be sold in March were sold later in the season at lower prices, if they were sold at all, Balicki said.

As flooding hit, those factors compounded, he said. Some older ranchers who face a recovery lasting two to four years may choose to retire instead of go that distance. He agreed it was a loss for some generational operations.

 “It’s their livelihood, it’s their culture. That’s all they’ve lived with all their lives,” he said.

Don Campbell’s family  has been operating a ranch along Beaver River north of Meadow Lake for 72 years. He estimates flooding affected about 70 per cent of the cattle in the municipality.

He said he believed his operation could weather the challenge. But apart from the economic impact, he also worried over the personal impact on ranchers in the area, who he said care deeply for their animals.

“One of the things that no one talks about, but is always around, is mental illness. … In situations like this, (it’s) that much worse.”

In an email, the Ministry of Agriculture encouraged producers to contact Farm Stress Line at 1-800-667-4442. Other resources include:

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