Vancouver Island livestock farmers struggle as drought causes hay shortage across B.C.


The rain has made no dent in the drought. Vancouver Island remains at level 5, and the impact on farmers is profound.

“In general this year, our crops our down 30-40 per cent,” said Bryce Rashleigh with Saanichton Farm.

For grain growers like Rashleigh, the drought means their buyers list for hay is maxed out, with 90 per cent staying on Vancouver Island. It’s even worse for sheep farmers in Metchosin.

“The hay yields are pretty low, and the pasture is low too, it’s run out now,” said John Buchanan with Parry Bay Sheep Farm.

The dry fall and then long, cold spring meant grasses like hay didn’t get a chance to grow fully. The hay’s lack of growth has forced Parry Bay’s sheep from the pastures where they usually graze all summer, much earlier than usual.

“We’re having to feed in July, which we’ve never done before,” said Buchanan.

As a result of low hay yields and being forced to feed their sheep earlier than usual, the Buchanans are being forced to buy hay from elsewhere.

The problem is, just as the drought is province-wide, so is the shortage of hay. Prices have shot up as a result, but the bigger problem is that finding someone selling hay in B.C. is now near impossible.

“It’s gonna be a big impact,” said Buchanan, who is already thinking of putting some of his herd to market, just to stay solvent. “We downsized significantly last fall and we’re discussing the possibility of downsizing again.”

It’s an issue livestock farmers are facing across British Columbia.

“We know all of western Canada is in a drought, so we’re looking at other jurisdictions where there may be a surplus of hay,” said Minister of Agriculture and Food Pam Alexis in a press conference Tuesday.

The province, in partnership with the BC Cattlemen’s Association, is building a list of hay growers, primarily in the American northwest, with the hopes of connecting them to BC buyers to prevent the sell-off of important livestock of all kinds.

The federal government has given the go-ahead to the province to provide advance payments to farmers with cashflow issues under the AgriStability program.

“Really what we’re doing is somewhat of a dating service from producers to suppliers,” said Kevin Boon with BC Cattlemen’s Association.

“This is an animal welfare issue, and this is an issue where we, as farmers and ranchers, have to care for our animals, and so decisions have to be made at some point in time. If they can’t access feed, they are going to have to make a hard decision of what to do with those animals.”

Boon says the persistent drought has created the immediate challenge of sourcing feed and hay but also raises questions over long-term storage and allocation of water in the future.

It’s something Buchanan underscored.

“If this pattern is to continue, we need irrigation. It’s turning out to be less and less the wet west coast, more like the interior,” said Buchanan.

Both agree the only thing to ensure this hay shortage doesn’t stretch into future seasons will be just how much it rains this fall.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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