Farmers struggle to save crops and animals in scorching weather
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Alf Krause of Krause Berry Farms in Langley shows the impact that hot weather has had on his raspberries. Fellow berry farmer Jesse Brar in Abbotsford says the heat has scalded some of his ripening raspberries, turning them white, while others seemed to melt onto the vines. PHOTO BY JASON PAYNE /PNG

An unprecedented heat wave created challenges for B.C. farmers this week, as chicken farmers desperately tried to cool barns to prevent birds from dying, dairy cows gave less milk and raspberry growers watched their crops wither on the vine.

“It’s been extremely stressful,” said Ray Nickel, a Fraser Valley chicken farmer and director with the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board. “There have been losses because of the extreme heat.”

While all B.C. chicken farms are required to have systems to manage barn temperatures, the high heat was “too much to handle” for some birds, particularly large birds that were close to being shipped, he said.

Barns are equipped with fans and different types of cooling systems, such as misters, but to save their flocks some farmers also hired crews to pressure wash the outside of barns with cold water.

Nickel noted that temperatures in June are usually around 23 or 24ºC, with only the hottest days topping 30ºC.

“We brag about our moderate climate, which is great for raising chickens,” he said. “We’ve never dealt with temperatures like this before.”

In a statement, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture said it had received reports of “considerable mortality rates in B.C. poultry operations as they have been dealing with extreme heat and ventilation challenges.”

Ministry staff have been providing resources to farmers related to disposal and composting of dead birds on their farms, said the statement.

The hot weather has also been hard on dairy cows, said Dave Taylor, a Courtenay dairy farmer who was harvesting his forage crop Wednesday before the quality was diminished by the heat.

“As always, but especially when it’s so hot, the cows are the priority,” he said.

The owner of Viewfield Farm said he hadn’t lost any cows to the heat, but he’d had to give several electrolytes to help them through.

“They’re sluggish. They’re trying to get comfortable. They’re feeling it like we are, but more, because they’re 1,500-pound animals,” he said.

Cows also give less milk in hot weather.

B.C. berry growers and tree fruit growers are also experiencing significant losses due to the hot weather. As of June 29, there were 81 loss claims related to extreme heat reported to the Ministry of Agriculture, with 50 of those claims coming from Lower Mainland berry farmers and the remainder from tree fruit growers in the Okanagan Valley, according to the ministry.

Abbotsford berry farmer Jesse Brar said the heat scalded some of his ripening raspberries, turning them white, while others seemed to melt onto the vines. The high temperatures also stressed the plants, causing the new growth that produces next year’s fruit to turn brown.

“It’s like someone took a lighter to the leaves,” he said.

Brar said he expects his raspberry crop to be down by at least 50 per cent, with some hope for later varieties. On social media, some B.C. raspberry growers are telling loyal customers they may not have any to sell at stands this year.

The heat has also put stress on strawberry and blueberry crops.

“We’re usually fighting cold and wet weather, but it’s done a complete 180 this year,” said Brar, who owns Geneva Farms and Bumbleberry Farms, in addition to being a director with the B.C. Raspberry Council.

Free-range poultry farmer Jill Azanza said farmers have no choice but to keep working when other businesses can close because of the hot weather.

“We’re trying to stay hydrated, take frequent breaks, but we still need to get the job done,” said the co-owner of K & M Farms in Abbotsford. “Farmers still farm.”

 

THE Dairy Industry Code of Conduct has brought about a “significant culture change” within the dairy sector and helped increase competition at the farmgate, according to Australian Competition & Consumer Commission deputy chair Mick Keogh.

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