Spring floods, now drought: Bees, crops suffering on Quebec's parched east coast

Farmers on the Gaspé Peninsula and neighbouring Lower Saint-Lawrence say less rain than normal means streams are running dry, crops are stunted and dairy producers may not be able to grow enough hay to feed their animals.

With 100 to 120 mm less rain than normal on Lower St-Lawrence, streams run dry, corn stunted

Honey bees are having to travel great distances in their search for nectar and aren't producing enough to keep the queens healthy, beekeepers in the Lower Saint-Lawrence and Gaspé regions report. (Simon Turcotte/Radio-Canada)

After surging floodwaters ravaged the Gaspé Peninsula coastline last spring, killing two people, Mother Nature has dealt the peninsula with more misfortune – drought.

Farmers in the region, as well as in the neighbouring Lower Saint-Lawrence, are coping with what the federal Agriculture Department calls a moderate drought: the Lower Saint-Lawrence has received between 100 and 120 millimetres less rain than normal in June and July.

"When you go around the Lower Saint-Lawrence, all you see is yellow lawns," said Gilbert Marquis, regional president of the Union of Agricultural Producers (UPA). "The trees are losing their leaves. It's starting to be serious."
Gilbert Marquis, the regional UPA president for the Lower Saint-Lawrence, says crops are stunted, streams are running dry and dairy farmers worry they won't have enough hay to cut. (Gaston Beaulieu/Radio-Canada)

Grain and corn crops are stunted, he said, and dairy farmers fear they will not be able to grow enough hay and will have to buy their feed.

"There's no more water in the streams. There is no more water to give the animals something to drink. Guys are running after water," said Marquis.

Queen bees stop laying

The situation for farmers in the Gaspé is also becoming critical, though they received a welcome dose of rain last week, and there are showers in the forecast for the weekend.

Nonetheless, the area is seeing the kind of low rainfall it would normally experience once every five to 10 years.

Beekeeper Nicolas Bélanger said there is so little nectar, queen bees have stopped laying eggs, putting at risk the survival of his hives. (Simon Turcotte/Radio-Canada)

For beekeepers, the paucity of flowers means there is hardly any nectar for bees to transform into honey. The bees are so hungry, some queens have stopped laying eggs.

"We are not even removing honey right now because it could affect the survival of the hive," said Nicolas Bélanger, a beekeeper at Vallée fleurie farm near Amqui, in the Gaspé region.

Salmon not biting

Ronald Cormier, the head of the non-profit agency that manages salmon fishing in the Gaspé's Bonaventure River, says water levels across the region are also nearing record lows.

"We have rarely seen that," he said. "It's the same everywhere."

The Mitis River in the Lower Saint-Lawrence region has perilously low water levels. (François Gagnon/Radio-Canada)

The salmon are there  – they can be seen through the clear water – but they are not biting because of the heat.

Cormier said the catch rate is down by about 25 per cent.

With files from Radio-Canada's Jérôme Lévesque-Boucher, Patrick Bergeron