Farmers, ranchers and their supporters gathered outside of Purity Feed on the morning of Feb. 6 for the Rally for Flood Relief for Farmers and Ranchers.
Following extensive flooding on Nov. 15 of 2021, the provincial government promised to release an Agri-Recovery program which would assist those in agriculture who had been hard hit by the raging flood waters.
However, nearly three months after the fact, and despite consistent lobbying, this program has yet to materialize.
“We had a townhall organized for last weekend, but Ministry (of Agriculture) staff told us that it was definitely going to be announced soon, probably last, last Friday but definitely by early last week,” said Julia Smith, local area rancher and president of BC’s Small Scale Meat Producers Association.
By 4 o’clock on Friday, Feb. 4, with still no word on the release of the Agri-Recovery program, Smith, alongside Wayne and Rhonda MacDonald of Bar FX Ranch on Hwy 8, decided to organize an impromptu rally to draw attention to their plight.
Rhonda MacDonald addressed the sizeable crowd from horseback on the sunny but cool morning.
“This year we were hit with a double whammy with the Lytton Creek wildfire, we lost 20% of our cattle herd in the fire, and then in the middle of November we got hit with the floods again,” said MacDonald.
“And like every other rancher and farmer along the valley bottom we lost not only infrastructure, but we lost valuable land as well.”
Although it is likely that the Agri-Recovery program will be announced imminently, for MacDonald and many others, it will nearly be a case of too little too late, with the situation only growing more dire the longer the government continues “dragging their heels”.
Calving season is well underway, and spring is nearly upon the province, which leaves little time to address program application paperwork and logistics, as well as the more imperative issues of land and bank stabilization, replacement and repair of infrastructure, and an ongoing feed crisis.
MacDonald hopes that the rally will not only inform the government, but also the non-ranching public, of just how serious the situation is.
“There’s a lot of the general public that don’t know the position that farmers and ranchers are in,” said MacDonald.
“Many of us lost several tons, or in our case, 300 tons of feed, that washed down the river. We’re not the only ones, from the headwaters of the Coldwater River all the way down to the Fraser Valley all of the low lying farms and ranches are in the same position.”
Scrambling to find feed in December and January is both risky and expensive, with hay costing at least double what it normally would, and that is without factoring in trucking costs that can add up quickly with bales being purchased from out of province or even out of country.
“Many of us have maxed out our credit lines, people have gone to friends and family for loans, other people have maxed out credit cards,” said MacDonald.
“It’s not an easy life we live, but you do what you have to do to feed your animals, sometimes at the expense of other things in your life… We really want to show the government that we are important, we supply part of the food for our population, and we can’t be ignored.”
Merritt Mayor Linda Brown was on hand to offer her support.
“Farmers and ranchers are the heart of our community,” said Brown.
“You’re the heart of our local food chain. When the food trucks don’t come in we can count on you guys, but we know that you are needing assistance to get you ready and started for this year. Farmers are people, you have families, you have mortgages. Without the crops in the ground now, we know that that won’t happen, we’ll lose our farming and ranching community.”
Any further delay could have devastating impacts, with Brown noting that enduring an extreme flood on the back of a horrific wildfire season was pushing some farmers and ranches to the brink of complete destruction.
“It will mean an entire loss for these families, and they’ve already had a year of losses with the fire,” said Brown.
“It’s time, government needs to get their act together.”
As horses, tractors, trucks and trailers, and those on foot prepared to roll out of the Purity Feed parking lot on their way to Royal LePage for a peaceful demonstration, adorned with signs of support, Smith remarked, “This is as grassroots as it gets. It’s about bringing the community together, it’s a bit of a morale booster.”