Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to discuss the motion brought forward by my colleague from Lakeland.
A lot of verbiage has gone on about should we compensate, should we not compensate, what the levels should be and so on. The bottom line for producers is that we do not have anything that will do the job properly. There is culpability with the federal government and provincial governments as well. Some of their departments recommended doing away with strychnine in the way it used to be handled and maybe that was not all wrong.
The end result is that the gopher populations have had eight or nine years of absolutely free run. There was some discussion as to the amount of damage that could be caused and a figure of $1,000 for a quarter section was bandied about. The damage is actually more in the neighbourhood of $16,000 on a quarter section, or $100 an acre.
When we talk of forage crops and so on, an average infestation of gophers costs around $120 per acre. Those 120 hungry little guys can do away with almost a tonne of good forage a year. Right now that forage is worth $100 a tonne. That puts the damage across that field at $16,000. No farmer or rancher can afford that type of a hit. No one has that type of infestation on a long term basis to that degree. There are some isolated quarters in my riding that are that bad, but they are not in forage; they are in a pasture type of thing. People are usually able to pasture 50 or 60 cows in that application. This year they could not put any on it. Because of the drought and so on and the gopher problem which compounded that, it was useless ground.The taxes are still due on that.
There is a lot of discussion on the type of bait that was taken away, the strychnine and so on. There were reasons for doing that. The non-target species was a big thing. There are some products that have been mentioned, and I will get into that later, which do not target the non-target species.
A big problem was found with the old strychnine, or the new stuff that was brought out--it was called new but it was reintroduced. It was weaker, but there was a shelf life to it that nobody even considered. A lot of the baits that had been out there in the last little while were five and six years old and the grain product that was mixed with it had gone mouldy. These little guys are persnickety eaters. No animal in the wild that has a choice between lush forage and mouldy grain is going to eat the mouldy grain. They bury it in the dirt regardless of how the bait is placed.
Farmers and ranchers in my part of the country and across Canada are stewards of the land. They were environmentalists long before the term was even known. They do not hurt their own land. They know they need that productivity year after year. The very conception that they do not know how to mix the bait or do not know how to handle it is ridiculous.
My grandmother mixed bait for years. She died at 96 years of age. The strychnine did not get her; it was a lot of other things, but at 96 I guess she had a pretty full life.
The problem with the baits as we know them is their availability. There is never enough when we need them. There is a very small window of opportunity to place those baits. Gophers hibernate again during the summer. The gophers we see on the surface are the young that come out and roam around and the odd female, but the males tend to hibernate for the summer. There is no opportunity to get them at all. An average female will live to be four years of age and an average male will easily live a year. They are pretty tough on their males.
On an average piece of ground with average growth rates, they will have a litter of five or six young in a season. On good forage with good feed they will double that. There will be twice that many. In a lush situation there will be nine or ten little guys running around. Again that ups their amount of consumption.
It has become a huge problem in the eight or nine years that we have had no proper poisons available to keep the problem down. They have had free run. That is where the government's culpability comes in and we are asking for compensation, and I think rightly so. It should be added to the crop insurance lists that cover wildlife damage, ducks, geese, deer, elk and other types of wildlife that were covered for a time. Some provinces still have it, some do not. In Saskatchewan it has been really short and hard to get but we need this type of coverage added. The crop insurance program is a joint federal-provincial application. Somebody puts in the money, somebody administers it and they are always arguing over who does what and the farmers end up on the short end of the stick.
Some of the counties in Alberta applied for emergency registration. They knew that the only thing they could do quickly in the short term was go back to what had worked before and that is strychnine. They were granted the opportunity to get the 2% strychnine that is fresh, comes in a little bottle and is worth about $8. When that is mixed up, the amount that each farmer is allowed to use in my area ends up to be about a 20 litre pail.
By the time it is mixed up it has cost the farmer about $150. If there is a major infestation, the pail of bait that the farmer is allowed to get will do between five and ten acres, depending on the infestation of gophers. It ends up costing roughly $15 an acre to do that. If a farmer has a problem on 1,000 acres, he or she would be looking at a $15,000 investment, plus the time to do it. In a lot of instances it is just not feasible to do that along with all the other chores that are required.
It was mentioned earlier that we need to look for other solutions. One solution that has been developed comes from my riding. Maze Innovation from Unity, Saskatchewan has invented what is called the gophinator. It has all the CSA and ULC stamps and all that good stuff to apply an anhydrous ammonia, which is basically a fertilizer, into the gopher holes and it gases them. There are a lot of pluses to that application. For starters, it is much more humane than strychnine, which should speak well to everyone. It does not target the non-target species. It only goes after the gopher in the hole. There is nothing left on the surface for the hawks, eagles or coyotes to drag away.
When we talk about other animals, we did a short study this summer. We had a meeting sponsored by Senator Herb Sparrow, from North Battleford. Herb is actually a recognized environmental conservationist farmer. He has actually won an award to that end, and good for Herb. He sponsored a meeting that over 300 farmers, ranchers, municipal people and others attended this summer. He had a lot of quick facts that he put together, including the fact that 123 gophers per acre will eat up a tonne of feed, which equates to $15,000 to $16,000 a quarter in damage. He talked about the size of the litter, the lifespan and so on. The body weight of a gopher will double over the summer as it gets ready for the winter hibernation.They take in a lot of feed because they are hyper little guys.
When we talk about non-target species, such as foxes, coyotes, eagles, owls, hawks, and so on, he actually did some research on those species. A fox or coyote would have to eat 40 to 50 strychnine poisoned gophers at one sitting in order to have enough poison to do damage to that fox or coyote. Well they are hungry but they will not eat 40 to 50 gophers at one sitting. There is not a hope. They could not wash it down for starters.
When we start talking about hawks, eagles, owls or whatever, depending on the size of the bird, we are talking about five, ten or even fifteen gophers that these birds would have to eat in order to be damaged. That puts into question the whole idea of a non-target species, other than someone deliberately targeting coyotes with a deer carcass or something, which is a criminal offence.
The problem is we have to come up with a different way of doing it. I know the Maze boys have developed the gophinator. It works like a darn. We can target the animal in its lair. It can be done while they are hibernating. It does not have to be done during these small windows of opportunity as with the strychnine targets. It can be done at any time, even in the fall when they are hibernating. We can plug off one end of the hole and put the hose in at the other end, tapping the dirt in and giving them a shot of anhydrous and the job is done. There is no need to come back for carcasses. It is finished and very clean.
The other plus is that this can be used under barns while there are animals in there; pigs, chickens, turkeys, cattle or whatever. Dairy barns and so on tend to get rat infested and anyone with those types of barns will say that it is a problem. They cannot set out bait because the animals in the barn would be attracted to the bait. So this type of application works extremely well.
We are always worried about our kids and contamination from pesticides, insecticides and so on in parks and school yards. Again, it is the ideal answer.
We have pointed out all these pluses over the years to Health Canada, Agriculture Canada and so on. In fact, the Maze boys finally got off their combines on August 19 of this year and came to Ottawa. They arranged a meeting with Health Canada to find out what the problem was. There were a lot of hoops and hurdles. The pest management control agency wants the testing done on anhydrous ammonia to say that it is okay to put it in the ground and then it will give it a pest control number but the cost of that is $150,000. What an absolutely ridiculous and horrendous cost for a product that has already been accepted for use in the ground. If I go out and fertilize my pasture with the shanks, rip up the ground and put the anhydrous in that kills the gophers, that is okay, but if I use their machinery, which is CSA, ULC and all that approved, I cannot do it. Can anyone explain the logic in that to me. It does not make any sense to any of us out there.
There are applications and alternatives out there, but it is up to the government to get off its collective duff and make these things available to people. We are saying that there is culpability and that there should be compensation worked into the crop insurance program in the short term, and in the very short term we should look at registering this Maze Innovation gophinator.