Heat waves: Farmers say high temperatures, drought show agriculture sector needs support
When an unprecedented heat wave “cooked” the cherries growing at his family's farm in Oliver, B.C., Pravin Dhaliwal tried to see past the financial loss to the passion that spurred him to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.
“Seeing those trees go from seed to budding to leaves to fruit and actually eating that fruit is a rush, and that's why I'm in farming as well,” he said.
But scorching temperatures that recently hit a record 41.5 C in the Okanagan region and even higher elsewhere in British Columbia had over 54,000 kilograms of cherries at the Dhaliwals' farm shrivel up on trees that “looked like they'd been set on fire.”
Much of the apple crop was also ruined, with 40 per cent of it being sunburned.
“It's devastating,” said Dhaliwal, 23, who decided to carry on with the 16-hectare family farm two years ago after finishing a business degree at the University of British Columbia.
Now, he's looking to the future by relying on the lessons he'd learned on the farm - focus on better seasons to come while trying to stay competitive with growers shipping their produce north from California and Mexico.
However, that optimism is being tested by the ravages of climate change for the Dhaliwals and farmers across Canada as they look to provincial and the federal governments for support.
Dhaliwal's family has filed an insurance claim with the B.C. government, but he said the returns won't be enough to even cover expenses so farmers need more support.
“I would consider this heat wave a disaster. It's not a few farmers that are affected by the heat wave, it's impacted everybody There's drought in Alberta, in Saskatchewan,” he said.
British Columbia's Agriculture Ministry said growers can buy insurance to cover crop yield with a 20 per cent deductible as part of a joint program with the federal government for the loss of fruit and some plants damaged by weather.
Brent Preston, a founding member of Farmers for Climate Solutions, said the future of farming in Canada will require government support for growers trying to deal with big fluctuations in the climate.
“We're going to be in a lot of trouble if we don't try to insulate ourselves from these effects,” Preston said from his farm near Creemore, Ont., about a 90-minute drive north of Toronto, where he primarily grows cut salads.
Farmers need funding to implement practices specific to various regions of the country to help them become more resilient to extreme weather, he said, adding the cost of not taking action will add up for governments and those frustrated in an increasingly challenging livelihood.
More farmers could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by growing cover crops when they're not producing those they sell in order to build organic matter in the soil and make it healthier so less fertilizer is needed, he said.
“When you have an extreme rainfall event, that moisture stays in the soil instead of running off and eroding the field. And when you have a drought that moisture is available to sustain the crops in your field.”
The practice could have farmers risking money and time to figure out how to do it properly, sometimes without the help of a professional they can't afford, Preston said.
“The federal government has, in the last federal budget, included a fairly modest amount of money to subsidize farmers to plant cover crops. And that's a really, really good start,” he said of his group's lobbying efforts. “But I think these kinds of weather crises we're seeing show that we're really going to need to scale that up.”
Subsidies for growing cover crops could meet the cost of seed and equipment for about three to five seasons until the practice has been established and farmers start reaping the benefits, he said.
In Ontario, for example, there's a strong incentive for farmers to make the most amount of money by growing nothing but corn one year and soy the next, Preston said. But a short rotation of only two crops could result in increased use of nitrogen fertilizer, leading to higher greenhouse gas emissions because it can turn into nitrous oxide and contribute to climate change, he added.
Instead, farmers need government policies to help them switch to planting wheat after a year of corn and soy and then another crop later in the season over the winter, he said.
“We're not talking about huge disruptions in the agricultural system or the way people farm. It's tweaking systems and adding things so that they become more sustainable over the long term.”
Importing water-intensive crops like fruits and vegetables from drought-ridden California is not a reliable option overall and encouraging consumers to buy local will only go so far, he said.
“In every sector in Canada, the government is playing a role in supporting the transition to the green economy. And that has to happen in agriculture, too. We're not asking for anything different than what we're seeing in transportation or manufacturing or anything else.”
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said in a statement that is “working very closely with the province of British Columbia as well as other provinces impacted by extreme weather to monitor and respond to the evolving drought situation.”
Hannah Wittman, a professor at the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at the University of British Columbia, said expected higher temperatures mean farmers will have to switch to crops that are less dependent on water, but that could be an expensive proposition.
Varieties of carrots that can tolerate drier, hotter conditions are now being studied at the university and would require farmers to simply plant different seeds, unlike perennial crops including berries, grapes or apples, which take four to five years to come to full production, Wittman said.
“It's not something that farmers can do lightly. They need to be pretty sure that if they're replanting they need to choose varieties that are appropriate for the upcoming climate, not the climate we used to have.”
Many small-scale farming families diversifying and rotating their crops lack sustainable irrigation systems and the infrastructure to harvest and store their products or to market them, Wittman said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2021.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The story of how the groundbreaking mRNA vaccines were developed to help the world fight COVID-19 is a fascinating one — but it’s been missing a key part, according to a scientist who says a fundamental aspect of these vaccines was originally developed by a small team in Canada.
The centre-left Social Democrats have won the biggest share of the vote in Germany's national election, beating outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel's centre-right Union bloc in a closely fought race.
Canada's ambassador to the U.S. says the Chinese government initiated the dialogue to release Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, noting that the U.S. did not make the freedom of the two Canadians a condition of the deferred prosecution agreement reached with Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
'Moulin Rouge! The Musical,' a jukebox adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's hyperactive 2001 movie, won the best new musical crown at the Tony Awards on a Sunday night when Broadway looked back to honour shows shuttered by COVID-19, mourn its fallen and also look forward to welcoming audiences again.
The Rolling Stones launched their pandemic-delayed "No Filter" tour Sunday at the Dome at America's Center in St. Louis without their drummer of nearly six decades.
The Conservative Party is facing internal strife as some insiders want to see Erin O'Toole ousted as leader, while newly elected MPs hope for some semblance of unity.
The Americans won back the Ryder Cup and perhaps a whole lot more Sunday, sending a strong message to Europe with a powerful performance from their youngest team in history.
Japan's ruling party votes on Wednesday for the country's next prime minister in an election that has turned into the most unpredictable race since Shinzo Abe made a surprise comeback almost a decade ago, defeating a popular rival in a runoff.
A team of scientists have developed a 3D-printed vaccine patch as a painless way to immunize without the use of a needle while offering a better immune response, according to the study.
The B.C. government has extended rules limiting the fees that food delivery companies can charge that were originally put in place to help restaurants cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
BC Highway Patrol is asking witnesses to come forward after a fatal single-vehicle crash in the Mid-Island Friday night.
British Columbians who've been thinking about adopting a new pet can do so for half price this week.
The Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will kick off their preseason campaigns Sunday, but it's action outside of the lines that many Albertan eyes are focused on.
A man is in hospital after encountering a grizzly bear and her two cubs while hiking in Kananaskis country Sunday.
Grace Church forming relationships with Indigenous people after being targeted with red paint this summer
The staff at Grace Church Calgary held a steps toward truth, healing and reconciliation event on Sunday afternoon, lamenting about the nation’s history surrounding residential schools.
The redrawn boundaries attempt to better balance the population of each ward and shed the traditional numbering system for Indigenous ward names.
The City of Edmonton's 12 wards have new Indigenous names and re-designed boundaries.
Nakota Isga has three candidates in the 2021 municipal election, including incumbent Andrew Knack.
A midtown Toronto restaurant says it will not accept unvaccinated guests inside, even if they have a medical exemption.
A 14-year-old boy riding his bicycle was killed in a collision with a vehicle in East Gwillimbury Sunday afternoon, York Regional Police say.
Ontario's daily COVID-19 case counts are lower than what many experts had expected by now, and while they point to a number of factors for the relative relief, they say now is not the time to ease up on those measures.
Baseball fans in Montreal will want to look on a right field wall of Tropicana Field during the MLB playoffs when the Tampa Bay Rays play, as a new sign will feature future plans the team has to split regular season games.
A man was found dead with bullet wounds Sunday afternoon following a shooting in Montreal's Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles borough.
The CTV Montreal News at 6 p.m. has been pre-empted due to NFL football. Watch the broadcast above.
Puck drop for the start of the Winnipeg Jets preseason at the Canada Life Centre isn't just exciting news for hockey fans but for restaurants in the downtown area too.
A man is dead after being shot in the North End early Sunday morning.
As Canada prepares to recognize the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation Thursday, the desire to hear from residential school survivors has soared across the country.
On Sunday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority declared outbreaks at Chief Whitecap, Ernest Lindner and W.P. Bate Schools, according to a news release from Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS).
After scorching temperatures this past summer, farmers are wrapping up their harvest with the majority of them facing lower than expected yields.
Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health reported 552 new COVID-19 cases and 436 recoveries, bringing active cases in the province to a record-breaking 4,864.
For more than 25 years a woman in Balgonie, Sask. has been hosting an annual fundraiser for cancer research around the Terry Fox Run, with a new twist on the event.
Dalhousie University says it's taking disciplinary action against students who took part in a rowdy party Saturday night that drew thousands to the city's south end.
New Brunswick is announcing another COVID-19-related death, as well as 82 new cases on Sunday.
Nova Scotia is scheduled to move into Phase 5 of its recovery plan on October 4 if all goes according to plan.
It was a slower start than what is typically seen during Western’s Homecoming weekend, but once the weather and police presence cleared, that seemed to change
A young man is in critical condition in hospital following an assault, according to police.
A flood warning has been issued by the Lower Thames Conservation Authority.
A special structure is going up behind the Anishinabek Discovery Centre in Sault Ste. Marie. A group of volunteers gathered over the weekend to build a teaching lodge, which will serve as a centre for traditional learning.
Four females from a Saskatchewan First Nation passed through Sudbury on Sunday as they bike to Ottawa for their 'Honoring Our Children Journey.'
Fall Fun Days at Aidie Creek Gardens in Englehart, Ont. is all about being out on the farm.
‘It was much more tame than normal’: Gathering restrictions temper homecoming weekend in Waterloo Region
Thousands of students and alumni came through Waterloo Region over the weekend to partake in homecomings at nearby universities, and Waterloo’s mayor said COVID-19 restrictions appear to have been obeyed.
A man from Cambridge ran 132 kilometres from Guelph to Goderich to raise money for the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada.
About 40 Canadian Army Reserve soldiers from Guelph’s 11th Field Artillery Regiment have made a quarry in Puslinch Township their temporary training ground.