Maritime farmers fear losing crops to dry spell
Published Monday, July 16, 2012 6:24PM ADT
Last Updated Monday, July 16, 2012 6:50PM ADT
The Maritimes may not be experiencing an official drought but the region is approaching historic levels with minimal rainfall over a prolonged period of time.
Lake levels are down, rivers are drying up, farmers are concerned their crops could be lost, and in Nova Scotia’s agricultural heartland of Annapolis Valley, it seems residents are focusing on two topics these days – farming and weather.
“If it would rain right now in the Valley, it would be a million dollar rain,” says Josh Oulton, who owns a farm in Greenwich, N.S. “Last year around this time I could have had a conversation with you about how much rain we were having.”
This year, there has been little rain. In some parts of the Maritimes, fewer than three millimetres of rain has fallen since the beginning of July – a month that usually sees close to 100 millimetres of rainfall.
“The well is going down. It’s going down fast,” says Gordon Levy, a farmer in St. Croix, N.S. “I’m worried if it goes for another week.”
“We had a very dry April, a very dry May,” says Bill Thomas, a field crop specialist in Kentville, N.S. “We had normal rainfall for June, but it all occurred in a two-day period.”
A pattern that is disturbing to Oulton, who says he simply needs more rain in order for his vegetables to continue to grow. He also says the farming community could be dealt a crushing blow if the dry spell continues.
“I’ve seen some corn so dry, it – and this is a rare possibility – but it falls over from dryness,” he says. “It would put some pretty big scars on people.”
Thomas says farmers have learned to brace for dry seasons, but even modern irrigation systems are beginning to falter.
“A lot of our high value crops are irrigated,” says Thomas. “There’s some concern there as well because rivers are low, streams are low and ponds are low.”
Water levels may be low, but the stress is high among vegetables farmers. Fruit farmers are generally OK with a dry summer, but vegetable farmers are another story.
“If we don’t get rain in a week or so, there is a concern,” says Thomas.
But farmers aren’t the only Maritimers concerned about the dry spell. Some municipalities are taking action against low water levels.
The city of Moncton is reminding its residents of a bylaw that was put in place about five years ago which covers residential water use.
“Most people realize that watering in the middle of the day is not very useful and is quite wasteful, so the practice of watering early morning, late at night is a reasonable thing to do,” says Ensor Nicholson, an engineer with the city of Moncton.
Residents are being asked to only use water for gardens or washing vehicles before 8 a.m. or after 6 p.m. for a maximum of two hours on alternate days.
Odd-numbered households can use water on odd calendar days, while the opposite is true for even-numbered homes.
Moncton resident Guy LeBlanc and his wife Shelda live in an odd-numbered home and he says they have cut back on their water use. He also says the choice of greenery can help.
“Once or twice a week I guess, but these flowers here, they really last pretty well all summer so they are really nice flowers,” says LeBlanc.
Bruce Dougan, the manager at the Magnetic Hill Zoo, says drought-like conditions do not affect the animals. They do, however, affect the number of people who pass through the zoo’s gate.
“A long stretch of very hot weather will affect the number of people coming through our doors because that extremely hot weather and a long stretch will tend to have people visiting beaches or going to the water park, that sort of thing,” says Dougan.
In Halifax, water supplies are in good shape and no restrictions are in place.
“We have two very good water supplies along with backup water and we have ample, so no concerns yet,” says James Campbell of Halifax Water.
Moncton’s Turtle Creek Reservoir is also in good shape, for the time being, but more periods of hot, dry weather could force more municipalities to take a closer look at how they manage water use.
With files from CTV Atlantic's Paul Hollingsworth and David Bell