Newfoundland & Labrador farmers:

‘2018 is one of the hardest growing seasons ever’

First, there was snow on June 26. Then came heat warnings and dry days throughout July and August. When temperatures dipped down to -5oC overnight on September 22, Chris Oram of Mark's Market Farms knew 2018 was one for the record books.

"I'm going to remember it as probably one of the hardest ones we had yet to date," Oram told the CBC. It was all hands on deck in the hours before the frost, pulling up tomato plants and cucumbers, "scrabbling around trying to save whatever we could."

Oram said their cabbage fields endured three bouts of snow since being planted on June 1, before temperatures swung to the opposite extreme. "We had 30-, 35-degree days for about 30-32 days here, without rain too."

Oram said the drought delayed his turnip field, sliced the potato harvest in half and even drained the farm's water dry by midsummer. "The heartache of it all was we ran out of water in our irrigation pond to irrigate, so we were really at the mercy of Mother Nature waiting to recharge the pond."

"It's absolutely a concern," said Merv Wiseman, the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Agriculture. "There was certainly a big loss of income this year because of what happened."

As climate change continues to contribute to unpredictable weather, Wiseman said irrigation systems will be farmers' first lines of defence, and will need to be improved.

"We're going to have to consider artesian, deep water wells and so on, and certainly going to have to look at some of the ways [drought is] managed and mitigated in other parts of Canada.”

However, deep wells are not an option, available to other producers in the province. "Small farmers that don't really have the scale of production to support a good irrigation system, would really be left to the whims of the weather, and there's not a whole lot that can be done," he said.

Despite its lows, Oram said the year isn't a total write off, and several crops, like pumpkins, are faring fine. Wiseman said the federation will take stock with farmers like Oram to see what can be done to limit the damage during bad years in the future.


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