Even with recent snowfall events, many regions in Saskatchewan’s agricultural sector are facing increasing challenges from drought. Numerous municipalities across the province have experienced multiple years of drought, with some marking five to six years of well-below-normal precipitation and will need significant moisture to replenish soil moisture reserves. The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) is calling for the establishment of a Provincial Drought Preparedness Committee. In a letter addressed to Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister, David Marit, APAS President Ian Boxall emphasized the critical need for initiative-taking rather than reactive measures to temper the devastating impact of ongoing drought on the province’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. “The recent increase in frequency and severity of drought events underscores the pressing need for immediate action to better prepare for these challenges,” said Boxall.

Boxall would like to see a committee formed that is a collaboration between government agencies, agricultural organizations, and farmers to form long-term strategies to be more adaptable in drought years. Last fall, the provincial government established a provincial drought steering committee, led by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, which includes Sask. Water, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance, and the Water Security Agency. The committee is tasked with creating a provincial drought plan, which is intended to be included in the provincial emergency management plan once complete. The plan will identify ministry and agency-led drought programs, coordinate planning, and create an operational task team to respond to drought events. Noticeably absent from the committee are representatives of producers and agricultural organizations. Boxall’s view of a committee would include representatives from organizations such as APAS, Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association (SCA), as well as SARM (Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities). Boxall also sees the need to not always be reacting to drought conditions, “I think that’s the biggest thing — a lot of times when it comes to drought… we’re always reactive. Sometimes you don’t get the best policy when you have to rush it and be reactive.”

John Pomeroy, the Canada research chair in Water Resources and Climate Change, says Saskatchewan should get used to low water levels, depleted soil moisture, and reserves in the years to come. The scale of drought conditions that Canada is seeing is unlike anything seen before. In the past drought years in Saskatchewan, there were always pockets, especially in the northern regions, which had adequate moisture, but that is not the case now with the northern areas of the province experiencing the same drought conditions as the south. The nature of the water cycle is such that there needs to be moisture to evaporate in the summer to help generate rainfall, and as surface water in the form of lakes and sloughs dry up, that evaporative process is diminished. With the realities of extended droughts becoming more commonplace, Pomeroy believes Saskatchewan should be working with Alberta and other provinces to retain water, thoughtfully expand irrigation, and allow for dams and rivers to work accordingly since much of the province’s water comes from Alberta’s mountain snowmelt. 

A ‘mega-drought’ is a term increasingly used to describe persistent, multi-year drought events that stand out as especially extreme in severity, duration, or geographical size. One such event is the ongoing drought in the southwestern United States which started in 2000 and according to geophysical evidence, is the driest period in the last 1200 years. (https://www.drought.gov/news/megadroughts-common-era-and-anthropocene-2022-11-15) Pomeroy states that the term mega-drought starts coming into the conversation when drought conditions persist for ten years, so while western Canada is not at that stage yet, it is halfway there, and “it’s time to start to really be concerned about that.” Planning decades into the future, Pomeroy affirms, will become vital as water reveals the impacts of climate change, and if progress isn’t made soon, water management in all seasons of the year will be extremely difficult.

APAS believes a Drought Preparedness Committee could serve in early warning and mitigation, resource allocation, stakeholder engagement, and long-term planning and investment in infrastructure, technology, and research. Boxall believes the proposed committee could monitor risk management programs that function as safeguards against weather-related production risks for farmers. Along with noting farmers’ participation in these programs and distributing information, the committee could also explore changes to the programs to better equip farmers to making informed decisions when it comes to managing weather challenges. These programs need to evolve over time as climate changes to assist producers in adapting and managing drought risks effectively. He added, “Recurring droughts can significantly impact access to these programs through increased premium costs and reduced coverage.”

Boxall shared that his main concern is for the government to establish the proposed committee in a proactive manner that prioritizes drought resilience and preparedness ahead of the 2024 growing season. Having sent the request to the government, APAS will give them time to “dissect and digest it” and then see what they come back with. Hopefully, the government will recognize the value of experts from all sides of the issue and move forward in the best interests of all stakeholders.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Mar 14, 2024 at 22:10

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan

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