At this time of year, Sajan Mandair’s raspberry field should be full of blossoms and bees, buzzing from cane to cane to pollinate his crop.
As of Monday, however, the six-acre property in Abbotsford, B.C. was all but barren — a delayed harvest that Mandair attributes to an exceptionally cold and wet spring season.
“None of the blossoms have opened up yet,” he said, standing in the rain between bushes. “It’s been rainy. It’s been cold … It’s slowed down the growth of the plants.”
His plants will still bear fruit, he added, but many of them are stunted. It’s one bad year after another, Mandair said, pointing to a row of canes that were burned during last year’s deadly heat wave.
Farmers in B.C. have been beset by weather woes in the past two years, including scorching temperatures, wildfires and catastrophic flooding.
The recent bout of drizzly, frigid weather is adding another layer of difficulty, said the University of British Columbia’s Sean Smukler, slowing down harvests in all parts of the province.
“It doesn’t mean they can’t catch up, but it’s definitely not a great start to the season,” the associate professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems told Global News.
“For some crops, it won’t be a problem. For others who are reliant on pollination — blueberries, for example — they might miss a really important window to get the crop pollinated.”
According to Armel Castellan, warning preparedness meteorologist for Environment Canada, the near future holds little relief for B.C. farmers. A winter-like pattern of persistent storms keep coming in from the Pacific, he said.
“We definitely have a little ways to go before we see something quasi-normal. Overall, even beyond this week, the signal is still for colder than seasonal conditions for probably two weeks, maybe even another month.”
This spring has set records in some parts of the province, Castellan added. Nanaimo saw its wettest April on since 1892, and Comox has gone its third-longest period without reaching a 15-degree day.
Mandair, who has been the head of his family farm for about seven years, said he’s concerned about the future as the weather patterns keep changing.
“The bees in this cold weather, who knows what’s going to happen to them?” he asked.
“With all these different environmental changes we’re having, we need to adapt to that and mitigate those risks. We need to figure out ways to grow more indoors.”
If farmers can’t adapt, he added, the community’s food security is at risk. Grocery store prices are going up and some consumers may not be able to afford fresh produce imported from elsewhere.
“It’s very stressful. With interest rates going up, with fuel prices going up — everything across the board is going up, fertilizer, labour,” Mandair explained.
“There’s a certain threshold we can charge our customers too. It’s hard to keep increasing the price because at a certain point, our customers are going to say … we can’t have this.”
As B.C. farmers continue to struggle, Smukler said the provincial government can help by making crop insurance easier to obtain and ensuring farmers have access to all the information they need about weather and climate adaptation.
The province’s agriculture minister, Lana Popham, said B.C. has a “suite of programs” for insurance that kick in if there’s a weather-related event, but they won’t cover everything.
“We had a difficult year for cherries a couple of years ago. They have insurance programs to cover that,” she explained. “Like all insurance programs it doesn’t make you whole and so you really depend on the next-best season. There’s a lot of fingers crossed right now.”
Popham urged consumers to continue buying local and for the moment, consider cooler climate products, like bok choy, which are “the very best right now.”
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