BC’s cool, wet spring is taking a toll on farmers

And no respite in sight for a month of May which has so far seen unprecedented cool days and nights.

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Everyone talks about the weather. Amir Maan is doing something about it.

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“You have to do it,” the Abbotsford farmer said Monday.

For Maan, who focuses on strawberries and pumpkins, that means a state-of-the-art greenhouse the farm opened in March.

Without anticipating the coldest spring in ages, but with an eye to the future and what climate change will bring, Maan is one of a growing number of farmers who are turning to technology to help overcome the unpredictable and sometimes debilitating weather fluctuations.

“Farmers are doing their best no matter what the weather is like,” Maan said. “There is no longer a normal year.

“Every year it’s a challenge now, so farmers are putting the technology in place to adapt. If you don’t adapt to new technologies, if you don’t put those innovations in place, it’s really hard to be a farmer.

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The fields are too wet to be plowed or sown. Crops that have successfully been planted do not receive enough heat to grow.

“We no longer have a benchmark to refer to,” Maan said. “We used to.

“A few decades ago when my dad was a farmer, I still remember when I was younger and was there, when I was 12, 13, 14, that’s when the irregularities started, it was raining a lot, or we had too much sun, the strawberries were not happy to have wet feet or the strawberries were not happy because they didn’t have enough water.

Strip away the greenery and the weather could be that of November, and there’s no respite until at least the end of May, according to Environment Canada.

“Going back and comparing with other years, we recently had extremely hot and dry springs, in May in particular,” said meteorologist Armel Castellan.

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Amir Maan and his father Kris at Maan Farm in Abbotsford.
Amir Maan and his father Kris at Maan Farm in Abbotsford. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

But this year the weather changed after the first week of April and this weather pattern did not change.

In fact, it always snows at higher elevations, which in itself is a danger because the snows are melting, which means additional runoff into major rivers and tributaries.

“The flood is kind of hinged on a critical moment right now because we added more snow in the mountains in May,” Castellan explained. “Usually the April 1 snow report is peak snow and it starts to go down from there. It didn’t.

“We will have to worry about flooding when it warms up.”

The mercury struggled to hit 16 degrees Celsius in May, or even hit double digits at all – and plunging below freezing on April 16, Metro Vancouver has been coldest on that day since April. beginning of measurements in 1896.

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Vancouver’s average daytime high so far in May has been 10.3C, 2.5 degrees colder than the usual average, Castellan said.

But as he pointed out, this is a measurement for the coldest first half of the month, comparing temperatures to the full month of Mays past. It’s pretty sure that no matter how lousy the weather is, the weather won’t get colder as the month progresses, at least not statistically.

In Abbotsford, it is the second coldest May (so far) with an average daytime high of 9.9°C, compared to a historic 13°C for the whole of May.

And there is an extreme weather warning for Wednesday, with high winds and 40-70mm of rain and snow for Howe Sound and the North Shore.

“In the middle of winter, it wouldn’t be a super strong storm, but it’s likely to produce both a good downpour and support winds close to the warning or even the warning level.”

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Maan’s paternal grandparents started the farm in 1977. The new environmentally controlled greenhouse grows as many strawberries on a 2.5-acre site as it would have taken seven acres of field.

And it’s the wave of the future for agriculture in Metro Vancouver, according to Lenore Newton, director of the Food and Agriculture Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.

The problem, she said, is that farmers encounter so much disruption that they have no recovery time. Meanwhile, bankers tire of hearing about next year.

“These disasters are impacting multiple cultures, the scale is a bit unusual,” she said. “This cold weather is so exceptional and so wet, we are seeing disturbances in apples, cherries, berries and also potato crops as it is too wet to plow.

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“We haven’t really recovered from the last round of disasters, here we are again.”

It's a little soggy and cold for strawberry season.
It’s a little soggy and cold for strawberry season. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

Much of Newman’s work involves studying the technology of indoor growing.

“I would say last year really lit a fire under everyone to say, ‘Yeah, how do we do this and how can we do this quickly? “, She said.

There is a limit, for now anyway, to what can be grown on a large scale indoors, but Newton sees huge opportunities.

Indoor farming is more efficient, leaves a lower carbon footprint compared to importing food, uses less water, and is more environmentally friendly as biological means of controlling insects and disease are more easy to implement, yields increase exponentially, the list goes on.

“We will never replace all outdoor farming, but we should do everything we can to move indoors and help farmers make this pivot,” Newton said.

“It’s a difficult pivot, but it’s not impossible.”

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre


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