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B.C. farmers hit by drought, fire and record heat eligible for financial aid

Ranches and farms impacted by heat, fire and drought are eligible for emergency funding and animal feed programs.
Ostrich farm 1
Universal Ostrich Farms Inc. work to protect over 500 animals from a nearby wildfire despite an evacuation order on July 22, 2021.

B.C. farmers and ranchers reeling from a triple threat of extended drought, wildfires and record heat will soon have access to government funding meant to bolster food security in the province. 

For ranchers like Karen Espersen, co-owner of Universal Ostrich Farms in Edgewood, B.C., getting feed past fire lines to her 500 animals was only made possible with the generosity of the public. 

After highways in both directions were shut due to fire, Espersen says she panicked because they only had a few days of feed left.

That’s when a blasting and drilling company out of Kelowna stepped in, offering to drop ostrich feed and fire hoses by helicopter. 

“He said, 'I’m going to be straight up with you. I don’t know you and you don’t know me. But we’re going to help you. Anything you need,'” says Espersen.

“It shows what a truly wonderful world we live in.”

Since then, a GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $20,000 to help the farm build fire breaks and take care of the animals — animals Espersen says are “almost impossible to relocate.”

For others, government support could prove a welcome reprieve in places like the historic Indian Gardens Ranch in Savona, B.C., which last week was threatened by three wildfires at once. 

“Right now, the cows are moving onto the grass they would be using in October and November,” ranch worker Jody LeBlond told Glacier Media last week.

The funding will be made available through a joint federal-provincial ArgriRecovery response to help with “extraordinary recovery expenses,” wrote a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Tuesday. 

Farmers and ranchers who aren’t yet participating in the 2021 federal-provincial AgriStability program can access immediate support by enrolling between now and Dec. 31, 2022.

“Farmers enrolled in the AgriStability 2021 program year will be eligible to receive a much higher interim payment within a few weeks of completing the application forms. Increasing the maximum interim payment from 50% to 75% of the estimated final payment will improve cash flow for farmers and help them continue operations this year,” wrote a ministry spokesperson in a press release. 

Late registrants will receive payments 20 per cent lower than those who enrolled on time.

In addition to those measures, B.C. commercial ranchers and farmers who need an emergency supply of animal feed due to this summer’s wildfires are eligible to access 14 days' worth of hay through the Emergency Feed Program.

With files from Alanna Kelly