Nova Scotia

Farmers seek relief from '100 year drought' conditions

Farmers in the Annapolis Valley are hoping for rain this weekend as they are pushed to the limits by a hot, dry summer.

Dry, hot summer leading to 'extreme' conditions

Richard Melvin, a farmer in the Annapolis Valley, says this summer's weather conditions are approaching extreme. (CBC)

Dust sprays up around Richard Melvin's pickup truck as he drives alongside one of his cauliflower fields in Gibson Woods, just outside Kentville, N.S. To say it's been a dry summer for farmers such as Melvin would be an understatement.

At Melvin Farms, where the fifth-generation farmer focuses on fresh vegetables, including spinach, leeks, cabbage and green onions, his irrigation system is working overtime.

'A doubling of effort'

Through the years Melvin has added wells and ponds and can get water to all of his fields. He's needed every drop; in a normal summer, Melvin would water his crops once a week — this year it's happening every four days.

"Basically a doubling of effort," he said, as water cannons sprayed the fields behind him.

"The question on an extreme year like this is are there enough hours in the day to get everything done."

The increased irrigation drives up costs, as well as the workload on Melvin and his employees.

"We're all sort of at the extreme max on our stress levels."

He's not alone.

Andy Parker, president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers' Association, says so far the hot summer hasn't impacted apple crops, but they'll need rain soon. (CBC)

Andy Parker, who has a 16-hectare apple farm in Grafton and is president of the Nova Scotia Fruit Growers' Association, said the hot weather hasn't hurt his crops yet, but people are starting to get concerned.

"We need a significant rain pretty quickly," he said. "And so if we could get a couple inches of rain out of the system that's coming through this weekend, we would all be pretty happy."

Parker is fortunate because his farm has irrigation, but he is in the minority. He estimates only 10 to 20 per cent of fruit growers have irrigation.

"Historically, we have not really needed that in the valley."

Moisture key to apple growth

While apples are fairly resistant to drought, there comes a point when they need moisture to get bigger. That time has pretty much arrived, said Parker.

The effects of the dry summer are evident throughout the Annapolis Valley. With the exception of fields being irrigated, there isn't too much lush green. A bird's-eye view of the area would look something like a patchwork quilt, with certain patches looking worn and tired.

Back in Gibson Woods, Melvin is preparing to harvest about 12 hectares of cauliflower next week, his major product. He said it's been a challenging summer from the start, and is bordering on extreme.

A 100-year event

This year's conditions are reminiscent of 1997, when the area experienced what was considered a "100 year drought," said Melvin. Another would follow in 1999.

"We're kind of in that same zone. I'd say it's a 50 year to 100 year event. So we don't get to see these too often in a lifetime."

Which is to say, he's praying the rain forecast for the weekend actually comes to pass.