In the early 2000s, Canadian farmers from the east helped out those in the west with hay supplies, after the drought of 2002 left very little for feed. Dubbed Hay West, the grassroots movement was revived 10 years later, when western Canadian farmers returned the favour for many farmers in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley with Hay East.
Hay was moved by truck, was loaded on trains, and was distributed to those in need.
Now, in 2021, the west is tinder-dry and there is already discussion of a 30 per cent cow herd reduction in some of the hardest hit areas, as ranchers pencil out what they can successfully feed over the winter. (See audio below with Saskatchewan rancher Sheldon Kyle)
There has been some preliminary discussion surrounding whether or not a Hay West movement will happen this fall and winter, but the time for action is now.
As the summer progresses, there will be fewer and fewer chances to put up extra hay in Ontario, even as abundant rains since June have led to some bumper hay crops. As Ryan Barrett, farmer and agronomist from PEI points out, coordinating the movement of hay is one thing — but the hay has to be made first.
So, our farming friends in the West are dealing with epic drought, and livestock producers will be needed hay/silage in order to not have to sell of their cattle. There is likely to be extra hay/silage in Eastern Can…but… 1/x
— Ryan Barrett (@rbarrettPEI) July 21, 2021
The sell-off in some areas has already begun.
180 char cow/calves selling tomorrow reputation herd triple c genetics. Will be the first of many herds leaving the Interlake due to the extreme drought. pic.twitter.com/X4nHjwcrov
— Ashern Auction Mart (@kkiesman) July 20, 2021
It’s imperative that Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic farmers with excess or the potential for excess hay, have a means of committing or delivering hay supplies, perhaps with a charitable donation receipt. Organizers will need to be working with railways and trucking companies to secure space. There is also the option of cattle or sheep moving east, too. For farmers with extra grass or wintering capacity, assistance and expertise should be made available to help create fair agreements that work for everyone.
Here at RealAgriculture, we’re hopeful we can play a positive role in helping make this happen, if the will and desire is there to do so. It will require provincial producer group involvement, national coordination, logistics help, and much energy, but if anyone can do this, it’s Canadian ag.
We’ll continue to make our calls and follow developments, but if you are interested in making Hay West happen, please contact your provincial producer group and encourage action.