Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable. (Saanich News file photo)

LOCAL FLAVOUR: Farmers tackle growing in a changing climate

Linda Geggie is with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable

Sol Kinnis is a bright light in our farm community. She is industrious and innovative and has been growing her farm business, City’s Edge Farm in Saanich steadily over the last decade. I was surprised to learn that despite her knowledge and expertise, that 2018 was one of her toughest years yet. It could have been the wetter winter and spring, or the long hot dry summer that smashed previous records on lack of rainfall, she told me. Sol was seeing new pests and a decrease in plant resilience she had not witnessed in the past.

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As I speak to other growers, I learn that many have also experienced similar situations. Many spoke about the smoke in the air last summer, a relatively new phenomenon. It was difficult to work outside. It was also cooler and darker, which impacted plant growth. Another aspect I heard about related to the weather this past few years is the sudden shift from hot to cooler temperatures and then from cold to hot. This makes crop planning and rotation very challenging. Sudden windstorms have also wreaked havoc breaking tree branches and destroying greenhouses. A high water table over the spring and again in the fall and increased sudden water flows mean a constant attention to drainage. For many this means costly upgrades to their systems.

Farmers are no strangers to changes in conditions and are constantly adapting and working with whatever nature throws at them. We may try to make tweaks to support food growing though nurturing soils and putting up greenhouses but at the end of the day the soils and climate are dictating to human endeavor. According to the BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative “changes in the climate are already underway and climate projections indicate that warmer and drier summers, wetter winters, and increased variability and extreme conditions such as droughts, floods, and wildfires, will all become common”. Here on Vancouver Island this will have both positive and negative consequences for growing food.

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This year at Farmer2Farmer, held Feb. 28 at the Saanich Fairgrounds, 50 regional farmers came together to talk about what they are experiencing, learn more about what to expect in the future as well as discuss adaptation and innovation that will be important for food production and their livelihoods.

Foster Richardson from the Climate Action Initiative kicked the day off with an overview of local climate projections and impacts on agriculture. He also touched on plans for launching development of an agriculture adaptation strategy for Vancouver Island in 2019.

Liese Coulter, a research fellow with the Ministry of Agriculture, brought her experience from working in Australia to the forum. Coulter provided advice on how to decrease vulnerability, minimize disruptions and support transition in agriculture. She also touched on the difficult theme of farmer suicide rates related to isolation and the challenges faced by the profession.

A Farmer Roundtable touched on mental health as a real issue for the farm sector and that there needs to be more recognition of the stress farmers are under and that better support is needed. It also confirmed what I had been hearing around trials being faced around water management, drought spells, winds, smoke, increase in pests and wildly fluctuating temperatures. There was a bit of good news as well. Farmers reported that they were able to grow some crops more successfully due to higher average temperatures, including watermelon and cantaloupe.

In the afternoon, practical workshops related to key climate change impact areas were held, including a workshop on extreme weather conditions, flooding, wildfires and emergency preparedness by expert and Regional Agrologist Doug Pepper. Ministry of Agriculture Water Management Specialist and Professional Agrologist Andrew Peterson, and Tayler Krawczyk who led the three-year Keyline Water Management research and monitoring program gave workshops related to water management.

LOCAL FLAVOUR: Farms bustle with activity even in the winter months

Simone Cazabon a grower who attended from SaltSpring Island expressed one of the key take aways from the conversations. “While climate change feels overwhelming and distressing it’s important for farmers to focus on the positive and about what we can do,” said Heather Stretch of Saanich Organics encouraged the farmers to “keep doing what you are doing. By undertaking regenerative agriculture we are also implementing good climate practices. We need to keep investing in our soils.”

A report on the conference sessions and suggested resources will be available at crfair.ca.

Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at lgeggie@crfair.ca.

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