New Brunswick

Farmers adapt growing methods in face of unpredictable weather

As temperatures rise, and the weather becomes less predictable, some New Brunswick farmers are working to combat climate change and the harm it can cause to their livelihoods.

As growing season continues to change and surprise, farmers try to control what they can

Kevin Arseneau says he and other farmers in the Coopé​rative Ferme Terre Partagé​e in Rogersville are doing a variety of things, including diversifying their crops, to survive bouts of bad weather. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

As temperatures rise and the weather becomes less predictable, some New Brunswick farmers are working to combat the effects climate change is having on their ability to produce food.

Heat warnings have been in effect in different parts of the province since early July, leaving many crops dry and causing a hay shortage, while a late frost in June ruined many fruit crops.

According to Brittany Maguire, environmental projects co-ordinator with the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network,  farmers are learning to expect changing and unpredictable growing seasons.

It's been a tough season, but we're starting to get used to tough seasons.- Kevin Arseneau, Kent County

"In general, the average annual air temperatures are rising, and they are going to continue to rise," she said. 

"There will still continue to be really cold days because that's an average annual temperature, but the periods of sustained high temperatures will be longer and are already longer."

Maguire said more rain is also in the forecast.

Brittany Maguire, environmental projects co-ordinator with Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network, said growing conditions in the province are changing and becoming less predictable. (Submitted)

"But in the form of more intense rainfall in a short period of time, with longer periods of time in between."

Farmers are noticing the change.

Kevin Arseneau at the Coopé​rative Ferme Terre Partagé​e in Rogersville called his strawberry crop a "complete disaster." 

"It's been a tough season, but we're starting to get used to tough seasons," said Arseneau, who is also the Green Party candidate for Kent-North. 

"It's not the first one that we had and definitely not the last."

Diversifying less risky

Arseneau said he and other members of the organic farm co-operative diversify to help deal with unpredictable weather patterns.

"By doing 55 varieties of vegetables on the farm, some stuff some years [is] doing not very good and some stuff is doing good."

"So it's not like a monocrop, where if we lose something, we lose everything."

He also grows eggplants under caterpillar tunnels to give them a jump on the season. Heat-loving onions rise out of black plastic, laid to keep the crop warm, and broccoli grows out of the ground covered in white plastic, put down to reflect sun, cooling the soil.

Arseneau said some of his fields are irrigated but others aren't. He plans to increase his ability to water crops in the fields but noted that it's expensive.

"Just doing a well is $10,000, and we haven't bought a hose or a sprinkler yet."

Government offers some help

The province is partnering with the federal government to offer some funding to farmers. Bruce Kinnie, manager of environmental services with the Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries, said about $1.7 million is being made available to farmers under the environmentally sustainable agriculture program. 

The money could help combat soil erosion and help improve farmers' water supply, for example.

Strawberries were a 'complete disaster this year,' Arseneau says, but he has other crops he can rely on. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Kinnie said ​if there is one positive aspect to climate change in this region, it's that it may extend the growing season.

The future may bring "a better chance to grow heat-loving crops but (farmers) will probably have to do a better job of saving water to grow those crops with," he said.

Maguire said the organic network is starting a new project to help collect information that may be helpful to farmers in the face of climate change.

The group is also hoping to develop a network for farmers to share their problems and the solutions they've developed.

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.

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