Nova Scotia farmers share lessons learned from 2016 drought

As Nova Scotia farmers near the end of a very dry growing season, they're looking ahead to what changes they can make to withstand future droughts.

Amy Hill can't afford to drill a well, but hopes to install a rainwater collection system

Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips says Nova Scotians need to plan for more dry spells in the years to come. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

As Nova Scotia farmers near the end of a very dry growing season, they're looking ahead to what changes they can make to withstand future droughts.

In September, Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips warned Nova Scotians to expect more dry spells in the years to come. 

"Don't think that this was a one-off," he said. "What we need to do is learn from this and figure out how we build resilience and cushion the blow, because you can't stop the weather."

No grass for sheep

Amy Hill, who owns Snowy River Farms in Cooks Brook, N.S., said they had to process the lambs two months early because "we had run out of pasture," Hill said. 

As a result, she told the CBC's Information Morning, the lambs were much smaller than they should be.

Thankfully, Hill said, they managed to find a neighbour who was willing to have her ewes pasture on their land. This meant they didn't have to switch over to hay too soon, and use up precious winter resources.

Amy Hill says she had to move her pigs to the woods, to get some shade, but there was still no mud. Just 'powder'. (Amy Hill)

No mud for pigs 'just powder'

It was hard for her pigs to stay cool, Hill said, because they didn't have any mud for wallowing.

"We can't give them any water extra on top of what they're drinking, because our wells have already run dry multiple times," she said.

Hill said they eventually moved the pigs to the woods, so they could get some shade, but there was still no mud. "They were digging down two, three feet and it would just be powder," she said. "No moisture at all."

New well unaffordable

Hill said she can't afford to drill a well, but she hopes to install a rainwater collection system on the house and outbuildings.

"When you hear that we're going to be having more summers like this, it gets stressful to try to figure out — OK, what is it that we can do," Hill said.

When it comes to her sheep, she said she's planning to ask neighbours if they have extra land to share for grazing, "so that we don't get stuck in this position again."

Richard Melvin says watering this late in the season is 'completely unheard of', but they've been irrigating steadily from June right through to October. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

October irrigation 'unheard of'

Richard Melvin, who runs a fifth-generation farm called Melvin Farms Ltd., near Canning, N.S., said his cauliflower, spinach, green onion and leek crops required a lot of extra irrigation this summer. 

Watering this late in the season is "completely unheard of", he said, but they've been irrigating "almost steadily, around-the-clock" from June right through until October this year.

"It's been a bit stressful," Melvin said.

Most of the watering is done after-hours to minimize evaporation, "so it means a lot of extra work on top of an already busy day."

Melvin says he needs to invest in better irrigation technology, if he wants the farm to survive future droughts. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Better technology needed

Melvin said he needs to invest in better irrigation technology, if he wants the farm to survive future droughts.

That means replacing spray guns that water the crops above ground — and lose water to evaporation each time — with underground piping.

"We've been investing in pumps and pipes for over 30 years now, and we have quite a lot of infrastructure, but we continue to add to it each year," he said. 

"We'll continue to do that and do our best to be ready," Melvin said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning