New water project welcome news for farmers

It’s no secret that water-related events can have a devastating impact on agriculture. Whether it’s a catastrophic flood, wet fields at seeding time or extended drought, farmers are often faced with either too much water or not nearly enough.

What’s more, science lacks a solid understanding of why these events occur. For Camrose-area farmer Humphrey Banack, it’s hard to pick an issue of more direct importance to farmers.

“With recent disastrous water events in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, we all know how devastating flooding can be,” says Banack. “Although the attention sometimes centers on the impacts to urban properties, water-related events can be a major risk for primary agriculture, too.”

As a farmer managing 5,000 acres, Banack has had his share of battles with insufficient or excess moisture. He recalls the wet spring of April 2011 in the Camrose area as one of the worst.

Now, as 2nd Vice President with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA), Banack is involved in a new, large-scale effort to remove some of the mystery surrounding water events in rural Alberta.

On March 17, 2015, Member of Parliament for Wetaskiwin Blaine Calkins, on behalf of Federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, announced $1.3 million in federal support for AFA to develop a unique computer model that will better identify the risk and impacts of overland flooding and drought in agricultural areas. Federal funding is being provided through the AgriRisk Initiatives program.

The project’s focus will be to construct and showcase a suite of complex hydrologic models to assess interactive water movement throughout the South Saskatchewan River Basin. Under each water‐related risk assessment, the model will build maps that define risk zones within the study area. The model will then quantify the frequency, geographical extent and severity of water-related events.

To execute the project, AFA will team up with private consultants experienced in agriculture risk and with world-renowned hydrologic and climate change scientists to generate the computer simulation model. The three-year project will begin April 1, 2015 and continue through March 31, 2018.

Banack notes that this project fits perfectly with AFA’s mandate. As Alberta’s largest producer-funded general farm organization, AFA supports a sustainable agriculture industry with viable farm incomes. The data collected under this project could contribute to better flood risk analysis and eventually lead to the development of overland flooding insurance products. Spearheading effective farm risk management tools for farmers is a key priority area for AFA.

“Many people don’t know that Canada is the only G8 country where overland flooding is not an insurable risk,” Banack says. “The federal funding provided to AFA will allow us to begin immediately in addressing the important area of water and risk assessment in agriculture, potentially paving the way for practical insurance solutions for producers.”

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