PEI

P.E.I. Potato Conference talks irrigation, adapting to climate change

Hundreds of potato growers gathered this week at the P.E.I. Potato Conference to talk about everything from soil health to alternative irrigation as well as the effects of climate change.

'We'll probably need more water, more quickly'

Potato growers gathered this week at the P.E.I. Potato Conference. (Laura Meader/CBC)

Hundreds of potato growers gathered this week at the P.E.I. Potato Conference to talk about everything from soil health to alternative irrigation as well as the effects of climate change.

After another dry season water was on the minds of some farmers.

"My sense is we don't need a lot of water to get a lot of benefits if it's used right," said P.E.I. potato grower William Visser.

Dryer summers

Dryer summers and longer periods of drought, potato grower William Visser says, is one of the main reasons growers are increasingly discussing the option of high capacity wells. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Dryer summers and longer periods of drought, Visser said, is one of the main reasons growers are increasingly discussing the option of irrigation.

"We obviously don't want to deplete our water resource but I also believe we shouldn't be afraid to look at the signs and the accurate facts about how much water we'll need and what that will do to our recharge capacity," he said.

Farmers certainly don't want our residents on P.E.I. not to have a good supply of drinking water.— William Visser

While growers are concerned for their crops some growers like Visser still want more information on how sustainable high capacity wells for irrigation are in trying match the water needs of crops.

"If it's not a … thing to do and something that's going to be sustainable, farmers certainly don't want our residents on P.E.I. not to have a good supply of drinking water," Visser said.

'Potatoes need water' 

Potato grower Ray Keenan has been feeling the effects of the Island's 'extremely dry weather' over the past few summers. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Potato grower Ray Keenan has been feeling the effects of the Island's "extremely dry weather" over the past few summers.

"I don't think it mattered how good of shape you had your land in, they needed water — potatoes need water and they just didn't get enough of it at the right time," he said.

Getting enough water to supply his crop is top of mind, Keenan said.

The concern of irrigation and the over-use of high capacity wells shouldn't be a major worry for Islanders though, he said.

"It's expensive to irrigate, it's expensive just to pump water and people are only going to use what they need," Keenan said.  

We'll probably need more water, more quickly. — Mark Stalham

"Everybody is not going to do it, I think it's going to depend on the individual and their needs," he said.

One of the speakers at the conference, Mark Stalham — a researcher who specializes in potatoes from the UK — said by 2050 there will be about a 20 per cent increase in the water required to grow crops.

'What I would be concerned about is actually having some science to justify this very emotive reasoning. I'm not certain we have it in many environments,' says potato researcher Mark Stalham. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"We'll probably need more water, more quickly. Really the daily application of water is going to be the key," Stalham said.

While the demand for potatoes will increase and with it the requirement of more water to grow, Stalham is still unsure of the environmental impact that could come from it.

"What I would be concerned about is actually having some science to justify this very emotive reasoning. I'm not certain we have it in many environments," Stalham said.

More P.E.I. news

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story suggested farmers met to talk about high capacity wells. In fact, that issue wasn't on the agenda.
    Feb 26, 2019 8:40 AM AT

With files from CBC's: Island Morning

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.