The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture is asking the province to create an Island-wide irrigation strategy to help protect farmers at risk of losing crops or having crop damage due to drought.
“Last summer is an example of a growing season where it’s simply not sustainable for us to grow crops of any kind without water,” said executive director Robert Godfrey.
Documents CBC News obtained through freedom of information requests show many areas of the province were experiencing severe drought by the end of July 2020, a situation which continued in August. That prompted five farms in the Kinkora-Bedeque area to ask the province to allow them to use surface water from the Dunk River to irrigate their crops.
The province gave permission for staggered pumping over the course of a week, despite the Dunk River already being five centimetres below the water levels provincial regulations require in order for water to be extracted.
Environmental and water groups have been critical of that decision, saying water use cut-offs are created to protect the aquatic life in the waterways and should be strictly observed.
Provincial data showed that the water level in the Dunk River dropped another five centimetres after a couple of days of pumping by the farms.
Dry summers boost need for strategy
The Federation of Agriculture wasn’t involved in the Dunk River request or the discussions the group of farmers held with provincial officials, but Godfrey said the farmers made the request to ensure their crops survived the extremely dry weather.
Even fields with high amounts of organic matter, which is thought to hold moisture better, were bone-dry this past summer, he said.
“I’ve talked to farmers who had organic matter levels of four and five per cent, which is extremely high, and they told me in late August of last year that great soil was simply just dry organic matter. And I don’t think that’s going to go away.”
Climatologists in the province have been warning that summers with low rainfall in July and August are becoming the norm, and Godfrey said because of that, farmers need to find a way to irrigate responsibly in those conditions.
“No farmer in this province is interested in draining streams or the aquifers. I mean, we’re raising families as well, so we’ve got to find that balance, for sure.”
No provincial commitment yet
The Federation of Agriculture made a submission in January to provincial officials on the need for a provincewide irrigation strategy. Godfrey said there have been some conversations with government about it but no commitment yet.
The Department of Environment, Energy and Climate Action sent a statement to CBC News that said: “The department is currently…