And a wildfire that started in May – Nova Scotia’s largest blaze in recorded history – forced farmers to evacuate their property, relocate livestock, and pick up the pieces upon their return, only to be hit by a massive deluge of rain last month.
“We’ve gotten used to having this moderate climate for generations, and we are seeing now a little bit more of these climate extremes,” said Steve Ells, president of the Grape Growers Association of Nova Scotia.
Due in part to the temperature fluctuation between December and February, grape growers will not have a crop this year of vines such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that comprise more than one third of those planted in Nova Scotia, Ells explained.
“It’s going to take us a couple years to get back to full production,” he added.
In the short-term, farms in Nova Scotia are trying to become more resilient by investing in measures such as covers and tunnels that shield crops from extreme weather.
Looking further ahead, the province, through a national partnership, aims to promote climate-smart practices, from recycling wastewater streams to installing weather stations.
“Really as an agricultural industry, we’re thinking ahead and trying to be innovative to mitigate and reduce our risk for all the way(s) the climate is changing,” said Janice Lutz, vice president of Farm Safety Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit group.
FROM FIRE AND DROUGHT TO RAIN
When Roy moved to Nova Scotia in 2020, he was enthused about growing crops like saffron and tea – rarities for the region but ones that seemed feasible due to the province’s general climate.
“We were gambling on the shoreline of this location as being, in 10 years, more hospitable for crops that technically haven’t been able to have been grown here,” Roy said.
Yet the cold spell contributed to a reduction in pollinators like bees at his farm, Roy said, before the fire forced him to evacuate for more than a week and meant that some of his planting schedule and income were set back by two months or so.
Similar to Roy, farmers Sarah Kistner and her husband Carl also moved to Nova Scotia a few years ago for climate reasons.
The couple had been frustrated by wildfires in the western province of British Columbia disrupting their farm there, and hoped for better conditions on the other side of the country.
Yet Kistner – who with her husband runs Stone Meadow Gardens, a flower farm in western Nova Scotia – said this year’s combination of humidity and rain in the region has been a challenge compared to last summer.
“We had the fire, and we were in a drought, and now it has not stopped raining. And so we’re losing crops to fungal and bacterial diseases – they are literally drowning,” she added.
Canada as a whole has already broken a wildfire record with more than 32 million acres burned so far this year, and the resulting smoke has affected air quality levels as far away as the southeastern United States and even parts of Europe.