Late summer means late – or no – harvest

Crop diversification the only way around the loss of produce - and subsequent financial loss - in a wet Vancouver Island farming season.

Dawn Osborne of Omega Blue Farms shows off some of the varied produce that has withstood the cold

Dawn Osborne of Omega Blue Farms shows off some of the varied produce that has withstood the cold

Even as crops in some parts of the country wilt from record breaking temperatures, agricultural producers in the Oceanside area are facing a very different problem.

There’s just not enough sun.

The cold, wet spring and summer experienced on Vancouver Island has led to many crops being as much as three weeks late — leaving producers scrambling to catch up.

Blue Heron Farms owner Kris Chand said the cool, wet conditions have hit local farmers hard.

“It’s not very good,” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of people and everyone is saying this is the worst they have ever seen in the last couple of decades. For us, I would say at least 30 per cent of the raspberries and other berries are destroyed. It was just too wet and not sunny enough, so they get moldy.”

Although his berry crop is only part of his operation, Chand said every crop he normally plants is two to three weeks late.

“It’s not a good season for fresh produce,” he said. “Here we are in the third week of July and we haven’t seen a heck of a lot of heat. Last year we had a cold, wet spring, but towards the end of June the weather warmed up. For the first 18 days of July, this has been one of the wettest, if not wettest, ever. It’s a combination of so much moisture and so many days that were either cloudy or rainy or drizzly. It’s a lack of heat.”

Colin Springford of Springford Farm in Nanoose Bay said corn planted on higher, sandy ground is doing fine, but corn planted in lower areas is suffering badly.

“In a patch where it’s a tad lower, it’s almost gone yellow,” he said. “The extra water kills some of the roots.”

Springford, said he was fortunate to be able to get in his first cut of silage.

“We were lucky,” he said. “We were getting in some barley for silage and got that in early on a drained field and we said on Saturday let’s cut her and on Sunday we cut it and on Monday it rained again.”

Other farmers growing cereal crops were less fortunate.

“Some people got their hay washed a number of times,” he said. “If it’s a moderate rain and you get the heat back you can shake it out and dry it out and get it baled up, but this year, if you get your hay rained on, you maybe won’t even get it baled.”

When hay gets rained on, he said, vital nutrients are leached out of it, to the point where its only real use is as straw.

Jenny McLeod sits on the board of the Farmer’s Institute for District A, which covers Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. She said the damage done by the cold summer depends largely on the crop being grown.

“A lot of crops have been severely impacted, such as fruit crops,” she said. “There have been a lot of problems with drying out fields just to get in to plant.

Crops such as squash, which require high heat, have suffered the most, she added, but leafy vegetables such as lettuce are thriving.

“If you’re doing intensive agriculture with raised beds you have a better shot because they don’t tend to flood,” she said. “With leafy vegetables, the more water they get the better they get, but squash need warm weather to get a start.”

Not only agricultural crops are being impacted on Vancouver Island, she noted. Wild plants are also showing signs of stress.

“All the natural growth, the indigenous growth has been delayed by about three weeks,” she said.

She conceded that farming is always weather dependent and stressed the season could still turn around.

“If we get really hot weather in August or September and it doesn’t break, we could have a bumper crop of squash,” McLeod said. “That’s the world of farmers, always at the mercy of the weather.”

The situation is worsened, she added, by the continuing crisis in the Vancouver Island bee population, which has seen honey bee populations decimated.

“There’s a major crisis in the bee population,” she said. “It’s a double whammy when you get hit by cold weather on top of everything else.”

The key to riding out the storm — or seemingly endless series of them — appears to be diversity, she said.

“Our agriculture is very diverse, which is a good thing,” McLeod said. “If some crops don’t do well, others do.”

That sentiment was echoed by Wayne Osborne of Omega Blue Farms.

“I think diversity is the only way to protect yourself,” he said. “It’s like finances. You diversify your financial portfolio and you should diversify your agricultural portfolio.”

Osborne said he practices what he preaches, raising a variety of different crops on his property near Spider Lake.

“One of the beauties of our farm is that it’s mixed and we have a diversity of products, with some that do well in cooler or hotter weather,” Osborne said. “Every year we have some that lag behind and some that steam ahead.”

Osborne, who raises organic turkeys and other fowl, said a couple of his birds have picked up some sniffles, slugs have attacked his peppers and his melons are slow, but he’s hopeful for a turnaround as the summer winds down.

“The people who are crying the loudest are those who are practicing monoculture,” he said.

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