Unusually dry spring has Vancouver Island farmers irrigating already

Farmers start to worry

For the first time in years, Rob Galey has had to water his corn and pumpkin crops immediately after seeding.

“The seeds will not germinate because the ground is so dry,” says the Saanich farmer. “This is very rare, but we just don’t have the moisture this year.”

Farmers all along the east coast of Vancouver Island have turned on irrigation systems, while wildfire watchers are concerned amid a record spring drought that’s spread across the southern portion of the province.

Environment Canada said the period between March 1 and May 31 was “extraordinarily dry,” with only a fraction of normal rainfall in several areas where key agricultural crops are produced and in forests where spring rains are needed to dampen fire dangers.

Nanaimo has recorded just 75 millimetres of rain over the three months, compared with an average of 231 mm— for the fourth driest spring since records started in 1893.

The Victoria airport weather station has seen just 53 mm of rain since March 1, a third of the normal 154 mm, setting a new dry mark since records began in 1940. Gonzales station has had more rainfall — 83 mm this spring — but still well below the usual 112 mm.

Campbell River is 50% below normal for rainfall and had its sixth driest spring on record, said Environment Canada spokesman Doug Lundquist. The trend has extended across the province, with record dry spells in Abbotsford, Kelowna and Vernon, where spring rain is at a 115-year low.

The lack of rainfall during the crucial spring period and a forecast of above-normal temperatures in the summer make for a potentially dangerous wildfire season, said Lundquist.

“It worries me because the spring rain hasn’t materialized,” he said in an interview. “It’s a huge concern for fire weather.”

Terry Michell, whose family grows berries and vegetables in a sprawling valley on the Saanich Peninsula, has been tapping into irrigation ponds and wells since late March.

He said cooler temperatures have slowed some crops, but strawberries, lettuce, zucchini, kale, beets, onions and leeks are being harvested by workers.

“We’ve used a lot of water to get the crops going,” Michell said. “Some are behind a little because it’s been cool. The workers like it because it’s not so hot or wet.”

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