STE-CLOTILDE-DE-CHÂTEAUGUAY — “The state of my fields is a disaster. There is so much water that it is impossible to work. We are not able to walk, we are not able to go to do treatments, we are not able to go and harvest,” said Denis Forino, a lettuce, cabbage and carrot producer in the Montérégie who estimates he lost 75 per cent of his crops.
At his side, broccoli and onion producer Julien Cousineau considered himself lucky to have been largely spared the ravages of the floods, at least until Thursday evening: “We received hail one inch in diameter for 15 minutes. Over a hundred acres were devastated. Large parts are a total loss. Hail, there is nothing to be done against that,” he said with a sigh.
The leaders of the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA) and associations of vegetable and berry producers met the media on Friday, in the company of a hundred farmers to describe what they describe as disaster and catastrophe in their productions.
These producers are on one knee and are calling on the government of Quebec for help as they struggle to get up from the persistent, often intense and sometimes torrential rains, when it’s not hail or violent winds.
Flooded fields, crops sometimes submerged, sometimes rotten, workers unable to go to the fields, machinery stuck in the mud: these producers say they have never experienced such calamity.
“Unfortunately, it’s a perfect recipe for wiping out this year’s work, but for some it’s the work of a lifetime,” said Catherine Lefebvre, president of the Association des producteurs maraîchers.
They are asking the Quebec government for urgent assistance independent of existing programs, which “were not designed to mitigate the growing risks of climate change,” according to UPA president Martin Caron.
“If we are gathered here today,” he said, “it’s because it’s really urgent and what we’re going through is really a disaster.”
Unable to bring machinery to his fields, Pierre-Luc Barré was forced to charter helicopters at great expense to spray fungicides on his potatoes to save them from mould and rot: “We see a premature yellowing. The physiological age of super advanced plants. With one seedling, you harvest 12-13 potatoes and often you end up with an already rotten tuber.”
Many potatoes are intended for storage to be sold later, but this year “we are going to harvest tubers that we are going to store without knowing their lifespan,” he explained, adding that the the potato alone forecasts losses of around 20 per cent, which will amount to around $40 million.
Expect higher prices
With or without help, consumers must prepare for a new surge in the price of agricultural products, because wholesalers will thus have to fall back on external markets: “All regions have tasted it and it is already established that, for Quebec’s main crops, the harvests available will not be enough to meet local demand,” Lefebvre said.
For producers, the financial consequences are major. They had already invested in their seeds and made all the expenses involved in launching production, expenses for which they have to go into debt and which they repay with the harvest. The absence of viable harvests and losses reaching 80 per cent in several cases go so far as to compromise the future of several farms, according to the UPA.
Producers refer in particular to funding for urgent work to preserve recoverable crops, an improvement in the new ad hoc program of Financière agricole (FADQ), the withdrawal of the intervention limit based on net profit from the Agri-Québec program, the deferment of the payment of premiums to the crop insurance program as well as a holiday on payments on loans to the FADQ.
Moreover, they believe that official recognition by the government of Quebec of the state of disaster of the crops concerned would make it possible to obtain from financial institutions and suppliers a moratorium on loan and invoice reimbursement payments.
“We can no longer go into debt to feed Quebecers,” Caron warned.
No one left behind: minister
Quebec Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne was quick to react. In a missive sent by email, he said he was very concerned, noting that the surge of climatic events “affects several regions and a variety of products.”
“Programs and assistance are one thing, and honestly at this stage, we must continue to send damage notices to Financière agricole. But the message I want to send is that we are not going to leave anyone behind.”
For its part, Financière agricole published a statement following the appeal, reporting on the measures recently announced for damage linked to excessive rain and the creation of a monitoring unit to monitor and contribute to the identification of additional support measures.
It also announced the postponement of the invoicing process for the crop insurance program until the end of next September and said that it has met with the financial institutions to share the portrait of the situation and explain the coverage offered to producers.
The future of farming
The future of the sector could be at risk if climate change causes these events to become the norm. If we can’t do anything against hail, as Julien Cousineau says, we can’t do much against torrential rains either, said Michel Sauriol, president of the association of strawberry and raspberry producers. “We can now easily control drought. But hundreds of millimeters of water, sometimes falling in an hour, an hour and a half? It’s impossible.”
Such amounts of water have reached the berries, despite being planted on embankments, and have damaged them enough that he is already starting to worry about the 2024 and 2025 harvests.
But above all, Sauriol said he is worried about his fellow producers: “I feel the distress of farmers as I have never seen it. I worry about the psychological health of these farmers. They invested millions and this year, it’s wiped out.”
Forino did not hide his dismay: “Is it still worth it? I do not know. I’m doing a job right now to find out if it’s worth continuing and I’m not the only producer who’s gotten there. We’re all going through the same thing.”
He also wondered who will take up the torch next.
“What worries me is that the interest of the next generation is taking a hit this year. If we do not have help for what is happening to us this year, we will have less and less relief.”
Sauriol said he already sees it: “I’m looking at the next generation: I’ve never seen young people discouraged like that.”
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