Sunflower festival wilts after dry July

Saunders Farm has decided to cancel its first attempt at a sunflower festival because the crops have failed during an unusually dry summer.

The first festival at Saunders Farm had been scheduled for Aug. 9-18

Mark Saunders stands at Saunders Farm in Ottawa on Sept. 23, 2017. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Saunders Farm has decided to cancel its first attempt at a sunflower festival because the crops have failed during an unusually dry summer.

Mark Saunders said last year's crop was successful, but the lack of rain this year has lead to a near total crop failure.

"They're not blooming and the ones that will bloom won't be substantial enough to make a good, strong visual," said the owner of the rural southwest Ottawa attraction.

"We just didn't get the moisture this year, we can't irrigate that part of the farm and the flowers didn't grow."

Saunders said the farm received less than 35 millimetres of rain in July, compared to 180 the previous July and 250 in July 2017.

He said that part of the farm hadn't required irrigation for sunflowers to grow before.

Uneven storms in the region are an example of how weather patterns have been changing, he said.

"Weather is becoming more severe and we're not suited for that here in Ottawa," he said.

The festival's website says climate change is having an impact on the farm and calls this "another stronger reminder that depends our commitment and resolve to doing more than our part to combat climate change."

Pumpkins 'stressed'

The goal of the festival wasn't just stunning selfies in a bright yellow field, but also letting people pick their own flowers to take home or roast the seeds, he said.

He said the goal of starting the festival was to further diversify the farm — which also has Halloween-themed activities for visitors in the fall.

The cancellation of the festival represents a loss of more than $10,000 to the 47-year-old farm, he added.

"I suppose it drives home why we need to be looking at diversification," Saunders said.

People stop to take photos in a Bruce Stewart's sunflower field just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba Tuesday, July 31, 2018. Stewart was concerned that the amateur photographers were damaging his crop. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Saunders said the pumpkin crop is also looking "stressed" so far this year and somewhat smaller than usual, which may mean require bringing in gourds from other farms

Some of the programming related to the festival — yoga classes and musical shows — will go ahead, according to the farm's website.

Tickets can also be repurposed for other activities hosted at the farm, such as Haunting Season and Frightfest.

Saunders said he hasn't given up on the sunflower festival idea. He may install an irrigation system in the field so the festival has a better chance next year.


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