Rancher Werner Stump said spring is usually a "season of optimism" for farmers in British Columbia, but worries linger after unprecedented drought last year and another dry season looming.

"I'd say that there is the normal spring enthusiasm, but in the back of our minds, we're still concerned about how this year is going to play out with respect to water," Stump, who is also vice-president of the BC Cattleman's Association, told a news conference Monday.

He said that is why farmers in B.C. are grateful to learn the provincial government is investing $80 million to help them manage, collect and store water for crops and livestock.

"Without water for agriculture, the Agriculture Land Reserve is practically meaningless," he said, referring to zones in B.C. designated and protected specifically for agricultural use.

He said production at his ranch in the Shuswap region was impacted substantially by the drought last year.

Premier David Eby made the funding announcement Monday while inside a bell pepper greenhouse in Delta, B.C., saying this summer's drought may be even worse than last year as snow levels remain "remarkably" low.

He said climate change-related events, particularly drought, make it tough for farmers to secure enough water for animals, feed and crops, which makes grocery prices soar.

The funding will be distributed through the Agricultural Water Infrastructure Program to help make irrigation more efficient and to build infrastructure to improve water availability and storage.

The program was launched last year with a $20-million contribution for 108 water-storage projects, including building agricultural dams and dugouts to improve water-supply systems for irrigation and livestock.

#BC to provide $80 million to help #farmers cope with drought. #BCPoli #Drought #ClimateChange

The province said the funding expansion should benefit hundreds more farmers as they prepare for another potential drought, while it improves stream flows and fish populations.

Eby said the cost of failing to act to counter climate change to support farmers is huge and accumulating.

“We can’t sit by and let our farmers struggle with a lack of water or a lack of money to replant those fruit trees and those fruit plants and those vines that drive so many critical infrastructures with varieties that can survive rapid temperature swings that we’ve seen," Eby told the conference.

“So, we have to take action for our farmers. If we don’t, we are going to be very hungry in British Columbia."

Farmers can apply for funding starting next month.

The agriculture announcement came hours before a B.C. seasonal emergency preparedness update, where forecasters warned that continued drought means the province will likely experience a more active spring wildfire season.

Cliff Chapman, director of operations for the BC Wildfire Service, said between 40 and 60 millimetres of rain over two weeks would be needed to alleviate the dry conditions, and return the province to a "neutral state." But, he said, no rain is in the forecast.

Nathan Cullen, minister of water, land and resource stewardship, also told the preparedness update about Eby's agriculture funding announcement, saying ranchers and farmers are "among those who face the toughest challenges from drought."

"That's why we're hosting over 30 community workshops with our colleagues at agriculture throughout the province to help them prepare for drought," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2024.

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