Early season frost, heat, wind, rain, hail… what haven’t Kootenay farmers battled with this season? Here’s a recount of the summer so far, straight from the horse’s mouth.
Ravine Creek Farm in the Slocan Valley is used to problem solving. After ten years of market gardening as their family’s primary income, Alys Ford and Eric Struxness have developed a strong resilience to challenges presented by the weather. The duo grows a range of crops to ensure that if one crops fails, all of their eggs aren’t in one basket. However, this season is testing even the most resilient of farmers, as the need to problem solve has been relentless. It’s only August, and we’ve seen frost in June followed by the heat dome in July. Ravine Creek Farm was put on evacuation alert two weeks ago due to the Trozzo Creek Wildfire; now, thick smoke envelopes the farm while helicopters wiz overhead.
Through the extreme heat and drought in July, Ravine Creek’s farm team started early in the day, and managed to get the winter crops in the ground without too much loss. “Seedlings are super vulnerable to heat and moisture, but we managed to establish our winter crops. Mature plants have more resilience to the dry conditions once they are established,” says Eric.
“The smoke has been the most oppressive issue that our farm team has faced, and has impacted our productivity more than other farm and weather challenges. The unrelenting need to problem solve this season has been exhausting,” says Alys.
Ravine Creek has a strong customer base with a weekly community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, farmgate sales and regular shoppers at the Nelson Farmers’ Market.
Old Blue Truck Farm in Windermere is in their sixth season of operation. Each year, says farmer Dale Wilker, is different. “We are in an area that gets a lot of frost anyways, a pocket or hollow, usually getting more frost than town. So, we strategized to make our farm more resilient,” says Dale of Old Blue Truck’s flexibility to extreme weather on either end of the thermometer. This includes narrowing the selection of crops crown as well: “All of our fruit trees are zone 3. No squashes or pumpkins, unless they are covered,” says Dale.
But that’s not all that has helped Old Blue Truck remain adaptable in the onslaught of weather challenges. “We have a number of different buffers,” Dale explains. One of these buffers is the climate battery greenhouse, which utilizes the excess greenhouse heat and redistributes it to the surrounding soils. This tool helps Old Blue Truck produce carrots as early as February, thus extending the harvesting season. Dale runs his farm with principles of regenerative agriculture and soil nutrient management in mind: “We have to get back to regenerative agriculture, or else [the farm] won’t be able to survive in the future.”
Old Blue Truck is busy for the summer season, with stalls vending at two markets in Invermere, stocking their farm stand, and feeding their CSA program.
Non-irrigated hay producers are experiencing decreased yields this year, which will reduce winter feed availability in the region and drive up the cost for imported hay. Local hay producer Randy Meyer in Creston has been serving the same customers for over thirty years and is concerned that he won’t be able to meet the demand this year. “I also have my own animals, and I’m looking at probably decreasing my own beef cattle herd this season to deal with the drought,” says Randy.
Little Fork Ranch in Greenwood and Grassland Grazers in Beverdell raise beef, lamb, pork and poultry for local meat sales. They use the management strategy of regenerative rotational grazing to feed their animals through most of the year. Grassland Grazers has already employed their drought contingency plan, and has reduced the number of animals they graze with their custom grazing customers. Little Fork Ranch is looking to greatly reduce the number of animals they need to over-winter on the ranch. “I’ve been shopping for hay,” says Matt Kitchen of Grassland Grazers. “There is nothing affordable in Alberta or further East as they have also been hit hard by drought. I’m looking as far as Vancouver Island, but the cost of transport is prohibitive.”
Thank you for all of your hard work this season, farmers! Remember to reach out to KBFA for any questions you may have as we move through the season.
BC Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map: Learn to identify the hardiness zone and average temperature range for your town in BC.
Drought Management for Agriculture: Learn about livestock management, soil water storage capacity, fertilizer management, and crop management during a drought.
About The Author
Field Day: Opportunities for Hazelnut Production in the Kootenays Saturday, September 30, 2023, Creston Valley Zachary Fleming, a professional agrologist and the president of the BC