ONE DAY LAST MAY, a beaver swam past our truck on the way to work.
I was driving our workers over to the Applehouse Vineyard at By Chadsey’s Cairns. Chase “Road” ( it can barely be called that ) navigates a swamp and when it rains, the waters overwhelm the culverts and flow over the road. Bone-shaking, strut-breaking potholes develop. Then on Fridays a huge yellow road grader comes to smooth everything out for a weekend of tourists. Then it rains and the cycle repeats.
Last week, the beavers were out in force on Chase Road!
“If we have climate change, maybe we shouldn’t bet our future on farming,” said Micheline, back at Broken Stone Winery, when I showed her how flooded our back vineyard had become.
It’s a problematic low spot between vineyards. Normally what happens in Spring is the snow melts, it gathers all the surrounding water to become a pond, the pond gets topped up by April rains, and then in late April the sun comes out and everything drains away in a week or two.
We didn’t plant grapes in that low area, we planted around it. But when the waters get really high, the pond encroaches on the lower-laying vines. I have to turn the tractor around on the muddy soil or even in the water. Huge muddy ruts develop in the clay, which later turn rock hard in the sun. It’s bumpy to drive on, hard to fix, and doesn’t look nice any more.
So I avoid that. This year I had a brainwave and thought that I would pump out the pond, and get on the fields a week or two earlier. So I bought hoses and a sump pump and fired up the generator.
Three times I pumped out the hole, pushing the water back to the swamp, then waited for the sun to finish drying the soil. Three times record-breaking rains came and filled up the hole with water again, just when it was getting dry enough. The rains in spring 2019 were diabolically consistent.
I was lucky; it could have been worse. I’d completed 90% of the tractor work I needed to do, and a few days later it dried out enough to complete the rest.
But it made me consider how farming requires consistency and predictability of the weather. Farmers choose what crops they grow based on the climate. In the far South they grow avocados and mangos. In the midwest, corn. In Prince Edward, cool climate grapes and cash crops. We make expensive investments in equipment, seeds, plants, and animals and can’t be changed easily.
Extreme weather — 100 year floods, late frosts, and drought — are things we’ve experienced first hand over the last few years. At first, when I lost my whole vineyard’s yield with the late freeze of May 26 2015, I thought it was a fluke. I had expected summers gently becoming warmer each year from global warming, naively thinking possibly our climate would even become more mediterranean. I thought eventually our worries about late spring frosts and extreme cold winters would become a thing of the past.
But weather is definitely becoming more volatile and unpredictable.