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Vancouver Island farmers face significant crop losses due to excessive heat

Berry patches suffer extensive damage, but high temperatures a benefit for corn growers
Clayton Fox of Silver Rill Corn outside Victoria shows off a cob of corn. While the high temperatures have damaged the farm’s berry patch, it has helped its corn. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)

The physiology of crops is straightforward: they need an appropriate balance of water and heat to grow.

Recent days have, however, led to a deficit of the former and a surplus of the latter with predictable, but concerning effects for local crops and communities.

Satnam Dheensaw of Gobind Farms estimates he has lost 80 per cent of his early raspberry crop, 40 per cent of his tayberries and up to 25 per cent of strawberries due to the high temperatures that have gripped the region since last Friday.

Blackberries also suffered a lot of scalding. “They are just burnt,” Dheensaw said. “They are just not designed (for these types of temperatures).” This said, his blueberries are doing well.

Damaged crops naturally means fewer sales at a time when demand for fruit is high, he said. The hot temperatures also meant fewer workers out picking, and higher costs for watering and cleaning plants.

Overall, the heat and the damage are unprecedented, he said.

“It has never been this hot before, ever. We got up into the 30s and mid-30s (before), but not the 40s. We had damage then, too, but not as severe as this.”

Dheensaw’s voice did not hide his disappointment. “It’s very depressing for sure. It hits you financially.”

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The story is similar at Michell’s Farm Market.

“Some of the berries are getting scorched, sun-burnt,” said Tom Michell. “We are irrigating 24 hours a day. We would be irrigating full-time this time of the year anyhow, but particularly the tayberries, loganberries and some raspberries have been scorched quite a bit because of the intense heat.”

If the heat has caused yet-to-be-determined damage to berries of various kinds, corn is among the winners.

“(Berries) don’t really like 40-degree weather,” said Clayton Fox of Silver Rill Corn. “The corn, though, loves it and that is what we mainly do.”

In fact, the business is gearing up to sell the first corn of season, possibly as early as this weekend and ahead of schedule, albeit not by much. “We are assessing the situation, but we are finding some ripe ones,” he said.

Long-term, Dheensaw predicts temperatures will likely continue to rise, while Fox said consistently higher temperatures could change what farmers might grow.

“Other than that, it is preparing to make sure that you have enough irrigation equipment and enough places to get the water from,” Fox said. “We use a lot of the water from the municipal water system.”

And therein lies the source of a looming conflict between various users. The region is preparing for “noticeable changes” to its climate in the coming decades, according to a 2017 report commissioned by the Capital Regional District entitled Climate Projections for the Capital Region.

RELATED: North Saanich residents asked to cut water use to address shortage

On one hand, the report predicts a longer growing season for agriculture. While the region’s growing season had an average of 267 days, climate change will add another 59 days to the growing season by the 2050s and 83 days by the 2080s, resulting in a nearly year-round growing season of 350 days.

But a decrease in summer water levels in ponds, wetlands and streams used for irrigation; increased competition for water, heat stress and sun scald on plants; invasive species, pests and plant diseases will challenge the positive aspects of a longer growing season, it reads.

“Increases in summer temperatures and reductions in precipitation will also place greater demand on drinking water supply systems where these are used for irrigation,” the report states.

The last few days neatly previewed those conditions.

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Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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