New Brunswick

Blueberry farm seeks water source after extreme weather devastated its crop

A blueberry farm in Richibucto is betting on the approval of a well site development to act as a primary water source, after three years of extreme weather devastated the crop. 

Precipitation for May, June and July of 2020 was just 43% of usual levels, says meteorologist

Blue Acres Development owner Brett Reidpath says blueberry crops were devastated by dry weather and frost. (Submitted by Brett Reidpath )

A blueberry farm in Richibucto is betting on the approval of a well site development for its primary water source, after three years of extreme weather devastated the crop. 

Brett Reidpath, who owns Blue Acres Development, said the farm lost over 70 per cent of its blueberry crop over the last four years because of dry weather and frost.

He said he can no longer rely on rain and steady temperatures to ensure the 150 acres of wild blueberry fields have a good yield. 

"It's devastating, That's how we make our living," said Reidpath.

"After 18 months of nursing those berries along, to go and pick nothing … and zero revenue to come from it." 

Reidpath said the majority of the farm's blueberries were wiped out in 2017 by drought, and again in 2018 because of  frost.  

He said the farm lost its entire crop again last year, after one of the driest growing seasons Kent County has ever seen. 

Blueberries are the only source of revenue for the farm, which sells 99 per cent to Oxford Frozen Foods in Nova Scotia. 

"After the third loss in four years, it's getting harder and harder to stomach, and that's why we've decided we have to make some changes," said Reidpath.

Reidpath says the next step is to invest in a well site, which will likely cost between $250,000 and $500,000. 

The farm is waiting for environmental approval before it can begin the project, and he's worried it won't be approved because of a lack of fresh water in the surrounding area. 

"That's a pretty big fear," said Reidpath.

"At first we thought the big step in irrigation was going to be the financial aspect, that was the hard part.  But it turns out a lot of areas where we are don't have a whole lot of water." 

Reidpath says blueberries are the only revenue-earning crop for the farm. (Submitted by Brett Reidpath)

He said Kent County doesn't have much access to fresh-flowing surface water for irrigation, so groundwater is the only option.   

Reidpath said he doesn't want to disrupt the drinking water supply of the Richibucto community. 

He said if the environmental assessment for the project is not approved, the farm will look to convert some gravel pits it already has on site to collect and store rainwater.

Significant weather changes 

Ian Hubbard, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said precipitation was "well-below normal" in 2020 in May, June and July. 

Over those three months, which are crucial for blueberry crops, precipitation was 43 per cent of what it usually is in the Kent County area. 

In 2017, June precipitation was 59 per cent of a normal year and July saw just 20 per cent of usual rain levels. 

Hubbard said there have been significant weather events that likely contributed to frost. In the early weeks of June 2018, temperatures dropped below freezing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Isabelle Leger is a reporter based out of Fredericton. You can reach her at isabelle.leger@cbc.ca

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