My Perspective - Short term gain, long term pain


By Kate Jackman-Atkinson

The Neepawa Banner

Over the last couple of weeks, the provincial government announced two compensation programs aimed at helping Lake Manitoba farmers. These farmers saw their land flooded through the operation of the Portage Diversion.

Last Wednesday, the province announced that $1.15 million will be earmarked to help those farmers negatively impacted by the operation of the diversion’s fail safe this year. 

Payments will be made to crop and forage producers who were flooded by the use of the diversion’s fail safe, an intentional cut in the banks of the diversion which spills water on to farmers’ fields. But the operation of the fail safe was different this year, the crest came in July, after heavy rains caused wide-spread flooding. This late crest, long after spring run-off, meant that water from the diversion was spilling on to seeded crops instead of bare land.

In total, 2,500 acres are expected to be eligible for the payment, which amounts to about $460 per acre. Depending on the crop grown, Manitoba Agriculture estimates crop production costs to be between $250 and $420 per acre. This means that farmers should have at least their costs covered, assuming all of their damaged acres are eligible for compensation.

The week before, the province announced help for Lake Manitoba beef producers impacted by flooding this summer. The province estimates that flooding damaged about 75,000 acres of hay land and winter feed feed production for about 330 farms in the Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis regions.

For those producers impacted, the program will provide assistance for the transportation of forage or feed to livestock and the transportation of breeding stock and unweaned calves to feed sources. The program will also offer assistance to help producers purchase feed. 

Both Manitoba Beef Producers and Keystone Agricultural Producers had been lobbying for compensation and the announcement of the program is welcome news to producers. Faced with high costs, many of whom would have had to sell some of their stock. On the surface, the program seems adequate.

The cattle industry is an important part of Manitoba’s economy, it generates approximately $620 million in farm receipts annually, but years of challenges have been hard on producers.  These challenges, such as flooding, have put a great strain on individual producers and the size of the Manitoba herd has fallen dramatically. In 2001, the province was home to 525,000 head of cattle and in 2006, that number had risen to 680,000 head. Today, there are just 440,000 beef cows in the province.

The land around Lake Manitoba is well suited to ranching and cattle production, but repeated flooding through the operation of the Portage Diversion has placed unnecessary strain on producers.  As has the uncertainty around compensation programs and the operation of the diversion.

Despite these short-term assistance programs, there is still no long-term solution for the the challenges facing residents on the shores of Lake Manitoba.  Through the operation of the Portage Diversion, the province can pump 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) into a lake with no outlet. Flooding events since 2011 have driven home the point that an outlet is needed, it was part of the province’s original flood protection plan.

The good news is that there has been some progress.  In last week’s throne speech, the Province committed to upgrading the Lake St. Martin Channel and building a new outlet.  The bad news is that the outlet will only be built with a capacity of 7,500 cfs, far less than the amount that can be brought into the lake.

These short term compensation programs are welcome relief for those impacted by flooding, but it would be better to have not been flooded in the first place. Over the last few year, farmers, ranchers and residents around Lake Manitoba have been sacrificed to protect those downstream on the Assiniboine River. It’s time the province stepped up and prioritized their protection.