How the dairy farm industry is coping after the B.C. flooding.
When the floodwaters rose to alarming levels of 10’+ in some areas of the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, B.C. this past November after a dike broke after weeks of rain, it didn’t just wreak havoc on the lives of the crop farmers. It impacted the welfare of their farm livestock as well.
From swine to poultry and cows, the death toll reached huge numbers. An estimated 12,000 hogs, 110 beehives, and a staggering 28,000 poultry died. Yes, Henny Penny, the sky is falling. In the Abbotsford and Yarrow region, of the 23,000+ cattle in the area, it is estimated that 500 died in the flooding. Of the survivors, 16,000 had remained on their own farms and 6,000 cattle were moved to other farms before the waters rose too high.
Duncan Reid, Sales Manager for TerraLink Horticulture Inc. and its Dairy, Crop and Forge division discussed his first-hand experiences of the tragic event with regards to the dairy industry, and how its impact continues months later.
“Yeah, the loss of cattle, swine and poultry from drowning was high—just horrible,” said Reid. “Along with the animal loss, there was also major damage to buildings and equipment—water and mechanical equipment don’t get along very well.”
He added: “Within the dairy farms affected, they pretty much all employ robotic milking machines—damaged.”
While it’s true that a farmer could just go back to the old manual milking system, it’s not a solution when the farms have so many dairy cows and not enough labour to take on the challenge. They get milked when they get milked—which at least gets some product out the door.
“Just as bad,” warned Reid, “is the fact that cow feed stored in bunker silos got soaked and contaminated—or just washed away.
“On top of that, dairy farmers planning for livestock feed had planted a cover crop (after a corn harvest) that grows, slows through the Winter and grows in the Spring—while no one is completely sure, the feeling is that the flood damage has killed the cover crop,” he explained.
He also noted that of those cattle that were evacuated to nearby Chilliwack, B.C. which was spared the flood, most of the cows are still in the temporary homes—and are being fed by their “hoteliers”.
“It’s tough for them, too. This past summer the area saw a lot of drought and wildfires that caused crop harvest to be down by 20 to 30 percent,” exclaimed Reid. “Feed levels were already down to begin with, and now with having extra cows to feed, these generous farmers are beginning to feel the pinch, too. But they keep on feeding all the animals.”
Despite the flood damage having occurred back in November and December, Reid said that some areas are still submerged (and since cold weather has appeared, has being used for skating and shinny), and even those that aren’t, “it’s too early to tell. We won’t know what the full extent of the damage done is for awhile.”
Despite the doom and gloom that exists on the land, he was more hopeful regarding the people. “Generally speaking, the mood among the farmers is pretty optimistic,” explained Reid. “Farming is difficult and stressful at the best of times.”
He acknowledged, however, that farmers are suffering financially, and that TerraLink, with help from Mark’s Work Wearhouse had distributed gift cards to farmers in the Sumas Prairie area, “and that all of the local area businesses had so far chipped in with about $25,000 in donations.”
He continued, “These are our customers. When TerraLink had about 300 tons of its fertilizer damaged by water, we were covered. Although the fertilizer is wet and clumpy, we couldn’t sell it.
“Rather than dispose of it, we gave it away to our customers before Christmas. It still has nutrient-value,” he insisted, “and with fertilizer prices now over $1,000 a ton (up from 2021 prices of $600), a little bit of clumpiness is fine by our customers.”
He also said that TerraLink will be providing all of its seeding at cost to those affected—no profit required.
“We’re helping out where we can, and we’ll do more as we can, too.”
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