‘People need help now’: B.C. ranchers in urgent need of financial aid to rebuild their lives

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It didn’t take long for floodwaters to inundate the ranching property in Shackan, B.C. northwest of Merritt, that Rhonda and Wayne MacDonald spent 30 years cultivating.

“In the space of about 12 hours, we watched a lifetime’s worth of work wash down the river and disappear,” rancher Rhonda MacDonald told Global News.

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The MacDonalds raise beef cattle and grow hay at Bar FX Ranch along Highway 8 between Merritt and Spences Bridge.

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The couple had already lost 20 per cent of their herd during the Lytton wildfire evacuations last summer – and was trying to recover when a surging Nicola River changed course and unleashed devastation on Nov. 15, 2021.

About two hectares of their property was lost along with three irrigation pumphouses – leaving them without a way to water their fields.

Their two-year-old calving shed was flooded and heavily damaged.

What’s left of their land is under almost a metre of silt and rocks – including a once prime 26-hectare hayfield.

“At this point, we’ve had so much damage to our infrastructure and our property – we don’t know that ranching will be feasible for us anymore,” Rhonda told Global News.

Three hundred tonnes of hay, the winter feed supply for their cattle, was also washed away.

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Feed is in short supply due to drought conditions across Western Canada, and the MacDonalds scrambled to secure hay at premium prices in order to feed their animals.

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Meantime, the river’s new path is threatening their home.

“The river’s now pointing right at the house,” Wayne said.

The couple knows they’re not alone in their plight, and others are even worse off – having lost everything.

“There’s a lot of hurting people along this corridor,” Wayne added.

In a Jan. 10 letter to Lana Popham, National Farmers Union president Katie Ward called on B.C.’s Agriculture Minister to immediately trigger AgriRecovery so that “federal and provincial dollars can flow to where they are needed before it is too late.”

The B.C. government announced the 2021 Wildfire and Drought AgriRecovery Initiative last September to help ranchers cover expenses for feed, shelter, animal health and transporting livestock as a result of drought and wildfires.

But the MacDonalds say they haven’t seen any of the $20 million in federal-provincial emergency support promised to ranchers.

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The couple says early estimates show it’ll cost $450,000 to replace fencing and $300,000 for irrigation equipment – necessary repairs to make their ranch sustainable again.

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“It’s ridiculous the government is taking so long to announce any sort of program here for anybody,” Wayne told Global News.

Popham was not available for an interview Sunday.

When asked when B.C. ranchers can expect financial aid, her ministry said in an email that it knows damages are significant, and that an announcement on flood recovery programming is expected in the coming weeks.

“The government of B.C. knows the hardship producers have endured since the flooding and continues to urgently work with the federal government to develop a comprehensive financial support package that will assist farmers with recovery,” read the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries statement.

“People need help now while the ground is frozen to get their banks stabilized to get that work done before the freshet hits in the spring,” said Rhonda.

The MacDonalds are not sure what will be left of their ranch once the snow and ice melt and fear they may be dealing with more flooding if help doesn’t come soon.

“It’s going to take man hours and time to fix this,” said Wayne.

“And we’re running out of time.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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