Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. farmers lament 2018 as 'one of the hardest' growing seasons ever

Snow in June, drought in summer and a hard frost in early September has caused big problems for farmers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

June snow, summer drought and September frosts made for challenging conditions

The frost hit Mark's Market Farm near Wooddale hard overnight on September 21, but irrigation systems managed to save its pumpkin patch. (Chris Oram/Submitted)

First, there was snow on June 26.

Then, came heat warnings and dry days throughout July and August.

When temperatures dipped down to -5 C 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 from the family farm in Wooddale, adding his father, who has been working the land since '89, concurs with the year's many challenges.

"Minus-five, we usually see that in the middle of October. Minus-one, -2 —​ that's pretty much normal for this time of year, but -5 is a bad one."

Oram said 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." 

They turned the irrigation systems on overnight, and Oram credits that with saving other frost-sensitive crops, but the cold was the latest blow in a challenging year.

From Ski-Doo suits to swimwear

Oram said their cabbage fields endured three bouts of snow since being planted on June 1, before temperatures swung to the opposite extreme.

"We went from wearing Ski-Doo suits in the field, to wanting to wear swimwear in the field," he said.

There was certainly a big loss of income this year because of what happened.- Merv Wiseman

"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," he said.

'The whims of the weather'

Oram isn't the only farmer feeling heartache come harvest time.

"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," he told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

Oram agreed a good irrigation system "is a must," and his farm will be looking to deepen its own reservoirs.

Wiseman said that option isn't 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, and will consult with academics at Grenfell Campus in Corner Brook into research techniques.

"We got our work cut out for us, no question about that," said Wiseman.

With files from The Corner Brook Morning Show

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