Recent History – 1998
By Cees Mond, Daily News Staff, Oct. 23, 1998
As the rainy summers of 1996 and 1997 take their place in the history and statistics books, the Peace Farm Crisis Committee dissolved itself Tuesday Oct. 20 at its last meeting.
While the committee feels that the government response to the weather-related disaster in the previous two years was inadequate, the committee is confident it fulfilled its mandate as representatives of the farming community, said past chair Allen Watson.
“We did our best to lobby Victoria,” Watson said. “The programs such as they are would not have been offered if it wasn’t for the pressure the committee and other groups put forward.”
The committee, a grassroots group of area farmers, sprang into being in October 1997 after it became clear that Peace area farmers of grain and other commodities were experiencing their second disastrous harvest in a row.
Like in 1996, a wet summer last year had drowned out much of the crop and made fields impassable for heavy equipment. In addition, early snowfall on the Thanksgiving Day long weekend last year effectively halted the harvest at a time most farmers had just started taking their crops from the fields.
It prompted Farmington farmer Nick Parsons to park his combine at Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek on Oct. 12 with the sign “Crisis in the Peace,” spelling out the distress of all farmers. The Farm Crisis Committee was formed a few days later at a hastily-called meeting of agricultural producers.
Parsons eventually drove his combine – that he named Prairie Belle – from Dawson Creek to Victoria, a 2,600 km round-trip, and parked it in front of the legislature on Jan. 26. A bus-full of farmers from the Peace, organized by the Farm Crisis Committee, welcomed him as they protested what they called “an inadequate government response to a two-year-old crisis.”
The Ministry of Agriculture and Food eventually made some funds available through a new Whole Farm Insurance Program and changes to crop insurance.
“It was an exhaustive winter of meetings, planning and doing, but someone had to do something and the committee took up the challenge. We didn’t get what we wanted, but at least we got something to build on in the future,” said Watson.
He said the committee wants to thank all the individuals and businesses that contributed to the cause. Besides bringing attention to the agricultural crisis, the committee feels it has played a role in getting more funding for upgrading rural roads in the Peace.
“It was truly a community effort and certainly helped to get the northeast the recognition it deserves as a contributor to the well-being of this province,” Watson said.
He said the remaining $4,800 of the funds the committee raised from the community will be turned over to the Agriculture in the Classroom education program ($3,000) and to 4-H farm safety programs ($1,800).
Watson said farmers are not unhappy with the 1998 harvest. While yields came in about average, the quality is excellent so farmers will be able to pay some bills this year.
A concern remains the low commodity prices, “but optimism is somewhat higher than in the previous two years.”