To deal with the unexpected glut of certain crops as well as raise funds for a new water well Aldergrove's Laurica Farm has started 'Fair Pay Sundays' at which the public can pick up deals on the bumper crops. This on-farm market will run every Sunday for the next four weeks

Heat, lack of water a problem for farmers

The ongoing hot spell in the Fraser Valley has meant early yields on many crops for farmers here.

The ongoing hot spell in the Fraser Valley has meant early yields on many crops for farmers here.

There have also been water quantity issues for some farmers who depend on groundwater wells for crop irrigation and watering livestock.

The early crops have been challenging, especially for fruit growers who have seen strawberry, raspberry and blueberry crops ripen almost simultaneously, instead of staggered through the summer months. This has presented a challenge in that labour in picking and processing the crops has been running flat-out in trying to keep up. And some farmers have been hit by a double blow in that the extended dry season has drained their wells and other water reserves.

Fortunately it has not been a serious problem for most farmers in the Aldergrove area, at least not yet.

Reid and Jenny McDonald retired from farming their 40 acres in Aldergrove but still have an active interest as they lease out 30 acres for berry crops and the other 10 acres for cattle. Their well, which draws from the same aquifer that Langley Township draws from to serve the suburban Aldergrove area, is adequate for their needs.

“I don’t water our lawn, it’s all brown but that doesn’t matter because we’ve had good water for irrigating the crops once a week,” said Jenny.

“The raspberry crop was early and the blueberries came at the same time, but we’re lucky that the raspberry crop is done and there is only one picking left for the blueberries. They were all machine-picked too, so labour wasn’t a problem either.”

A new Metro Vancouver watermain to serve Aldergrove is scheduled to be completed on August 23, and this will alleviate water supply issues for suburban Aldergrove and Gloucester Industrial Estates. The Township will continue to draw from their seven wells here in order to keep costs down but will supplement it with Metro water during peak demand times in summer.

This will also leave more water in the Aldergrove aquifer for farmers and other rural residents who depend on their private groundwater wells.

However, this won’t affect those in the north and south Aldergrove area who are relying on different aquifers.

For those in the south near the U.S. border water supply has not been an issue yet. This area is rich in gravel which allows water to recharge aquifers quickly.

“It’s been good so far,” said Gary Johnston, who has 50 acres in hay along with a large poultry operation.

He has two wells, a 160 foot deep well and a 16 foot shallow well. The shallow well has been sufficient to irrigate his hay crops.

“The only problem is it’s so hot that the soil dries up fast,” said Johnston.

The large-scale greenhouse operation nearby, operated by Abbotsford’s Krahn family, has a massive reservoir-lake of water which collects rainwater in rainy months as well as recycles water used in the greenhouses. This significantly reduces their need to draw from groundwater.

For those who farm or reside on less impervious clay soils though, there is a serious water supply issue, especially in summer. This is a well-known problem in the area around 256 Street and 16 Avenue, where there are heavy clay deposits restricting flow of groundwater.

This is what Ian and Cathy Finley of the small-scale organic Laurica Farm have discovered at their five acre property located at 25775 – 12 Avenue.

Last year at this time their shallow well ran dry during their first year of operation so they spent $50,000 to have a new 70-foot well dug. Last week, this well ran dry too.

The Finley family has been scrambling to ensure that their three acres of vegetables and fruit trees — as well as their pigs and free-range chickens — have enough water, while they raise the money to dig a deeper well.

“We’ve been lucky to have the support of the community who have been bringing us water, and we also found a bit of water in the old well — we jerry-rigged a pump, so we’ve been able to water crops by hand at least,” said Cathy.

“The heat also meant the season is about three weeks ahead, which has its pros and cons. We’ve had beets and potatoes for weeks now, but a lot, like peas, beans and spinach, are struggling. Everything is either ripening at the same time or bolting, going to seed.”

Their farm supplies restaurants, as well as 50 families under a program called “community support agriculture” which shares the risk as well as the bounty. At a cost of $300 each, families receive a seasonal box of vegetables and fruits every week for 14 weeks.

To deal with the unexpected glut of certain crops as well as raise funds for a new water well the farm has started “Fair Pay Sundays” at which the public can pick up deals on the bumper crops. This on-farm market will run every Sunday for the next four weeks.

The Finleys will also host a special fundraiser called the “Farm Jam” on Saturday, August 15. There will be live entertainment, games, face-painting and a myriad of family activities, along with deals on farm produce. (Those who wish to support any of these events can email cathyfinley@gmail.com or call 604-719-3749 for details.)

“We are trying to be sustainable, we are going to collect more rainwater in the off-season,” said Cathy. “Our pond dried out in May so we had to get rid of the ducks, but since we have so much clay here we’re thinking of digging the pond deeper and lining it with clay so we can collect more water for the farm.”

To deal with the unexpected glut of certain crops as well as raise funds for a new water well Aldergrove’s Laurica Farm has started “Fair Pay Sundays” at which the public can pick up deals on the bumper crops. This on-farm market will run every Sunday for the next four weeks, said owner-operator Cathy Finley.