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Prairie flooding hitting farmers hard

Prairie flooding hitting farmers hardFloodwaters invade a farmstead near Gainsborough, Sask., during Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall's aerial tour of flood-ravaged southeast Saskatchewan on Wednesday, July 02, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Don Healy - Pool

Water levels appear to be stabilizing in most of Manitoba and Saskatchewan after widespread flooding, but fear of massive damage is growing, especially among farmers.

A soggy spring prevented many farmers in Manitoba from getting crops in the ground. It's estimated some 400,000 hectares went unseeded.

Doug Chorney, head of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said the recent torrential rain means farmers could lose this year's income if seeded crops are wiped out and more.

"On a farm, when you get a disaster like this, you lose your home, you lose your potential for income for at least a year and you may have to dig into your savings to finance recovery," Chorney said Thursday.

"It's significant, very significant. It's going to be felt for many years in rural communities."

Adding to the stress, Chorney said Manitoba is activating the Portage diversion which funnels water from the Assiniboine River into Lake Manitoba. That has the potential to flood even more farmland and weaken dikes that protect farms.

Farmers in southeast Saskatchewan got 93 cent of the land seeded and 97 per cent was seeded in east-central regions. But some of those areas were hardest hit by the storm and got more than 200 millimetres of rain.

Shannon Friesen, with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said producers are pumping out their yards and trying to help any livestock left stranded by the flood.

"They're getting anxious about it and of course the worry is high really. Things just aren't good," said Friesen.

"Crops can only withstand being under water a certain amount of time."

Norm Hall, president of Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said it's too soon to assess how badly farmers were hurt.

"It got really ugly in a hurry," Hall said. "It's the gamut of farms and everybody's being hit."

At least 40,000 hectares of crops have been affected so far, but it could easily go above that, he said. Farmers are also concerned the floodwater has damaged roads and grain storage bins.

The torrential rain and flash floods prompted more than 100 communities in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to declare a state of emergency.

About 300 people in Saskatchewan and 565 people in Manitoba have had to leave their homes because of overland flooding.

There are flood warnings for 28 Manitoba rivers and streams. Flood watches are in place for Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba. About 78 provincial roads, hundreds of municipal roads and dozens of bridges are closed.

Dozens of basements have taken on water in Brandon, however the city's emergency co-ordinator said no one has been evacuated.

Brian Kayes said the floodwater is still just under three metres from the top of the city's dikes. It's expected to come within a 1/2 metre when it crests next week.

"The crest when it arrives is likely to stay for a couple of days and then begin to recede rather quickly," he said.

The situation also appeared to be improving in Saskatchewan. Water started to recede in communities Thursday and move through the river systems.

The villages of Gainsborough and Carievale were no longer cut off. Flooding had made roads into the communities impassable.

The hospital in Melville, northwest of Regina, reopened Thursday and patients were being moved back in. A rising creek behind the facility led to a full-scale evacuation Tuesday of more than 150 acute-care patients and long-term residents.

"We are seeing some stabilization of the water flows through those particular areas," said Saskatchewan Emergency Management Commissioner Duane McKay.

Officials were still watching the Crooked and Round Lakes in the Lower Qu'Appelle River watershed, which extends from near Regina to the Manitoba boundary.

Cottages on the lakes are already submerged and the Saskatchewan Water Security Agency warns water levels have not yet peaked. Those lakes will likely pass record highs set in 1955.

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn has been touring parts of the province where floodwater has turned fields into lakes. The longer the water sits on crops, the less likely they are to recover, he said.

"It's demoralizing to see," Kostyshyn said. "Being a producer for 30 years of my life, I've gone through it a few times. The challenge has always been Mother Nature."

It's too soon to say how much agricultural land has been affected or how much the flood will cost, he said. But producers can rely on crop insurance and hopefully get some kind of disaster assistance from the federal government.

"I guess that's the reality of the occupation — one year you have the benefit of plentiful harvests and the next year, you're struggling with obtaining enough bushels to pay back your expenses."

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