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Western P.E.I. potato crop thirsting for rain after region missed most of last week’s precipitation

A P.E.I. Grain Elevators worker checks the moisture level on a load of grain on the scales at the Elmsdale elevator.
A P.E.I. Grain Elevators worker checks the moisture level on a load of grain on the scales at the Elmsdale elevator. - Eric McCarthy

ELMSDALE, P.E.I. - The potato crop, especially in western P.E.I., needs rain, and soon.

Glen MacLean of MacLean Farms in West Devon said the western end of the province missed out on the heavy rain Summerside and Charlottetown received last week and, for that, despite the dry conditions, he’s grateful.

“That was pretty severe. That much rain in a short time,” he admitted.

MacLean said he dumped four-tenths of an inch of water from a rain gauge in a field in Milburn last week. That was the previous week’s rain fall.

“I don’t think we got any since then,” he said, adding the situation was about the same around his homestead in West Devon.

MacLean said the dry weather is starting to show on his potato crop.

“Up until about a week ago, it was decent, but the last week, it’s starting to take its toll. It’s starting to get quite dry now. You’re starting to see a little bit of wilting now.”

He feels the drought-like conditions in western P.E.I. are comparable to last year.

“Hopefully, we will get some rain this week. We need a two-inch, two-day rain,” he said, stressing nobody wants it all at once. “Slow and steady.”

“Hopefully, we will get some rain this week. We need a two-inch, two-day rain ... Slow and steady.”
Glen MacLean

he current dry conditions do not seem to be setting off any alarms about groundwater. Qing Li, a hydrogeologist for the P.E.I. Department of Communities, Land and Environment, said groundwater levels, though lower than average across P.E.I. this summer, remain above historical minimum levels.

With the light snowfall and early snowmelt last winter and spring, he said groundwater levels were at or below historical lows at some locations but have since recovered due to late spring/early summer recharge.

Li indicated the Summerside station climate data showed 434 mm of precipitation from January to July this year, well below the 1981-2010 average of 598 mm. The July precipitation in Summerside was 40 mm, compared to the July average of 74 mm.

“Based on the long-term monitoring data in the last several decades, long-term trends of stream flow and groundwater level are flat with seasonal variations. A flat long-term trend is indicative of sustainable water resource usage,” Li reported.

Related: P.E.I. farmers in desperate need of significant rain soon

In Nail Pond, market gardener Barry Clohossey said much of his crop is already worse off than last year. A June 3 frost wreaked havoc on his early fruits and vegetables, and, since July 3, it has been consistently hot and dry.

It is not only hard on the crops but on the farm workers, he said, noting they’ve been starting earlier in the day to escape the heat. He pulled them from the field at noontime Monday.

“This is what we have to get used to,” Clohossey said, pointing to outlooks for more of the same in years to come.

He suspects farmers will need to adapt, but quipped, “There’s not a big market for cotton in Nail Pond.”

Francis Shea, a potato grower in St. Louis, said the situation is getting dire.

“I don’t know how much longer it is going to hold on if we don’t get rain soon.”

Despite a wetter start, Shea said six weeks of hot, dry weather have taken their toll.

“(The potatoes) took an awful beating (Sunday) and they’re going to take a beating again today,” he noted.

While potato growers are looking for rain, grain growers are taking advantage of the dry conditions to get a start on the harvest. Just a few loads were delivered to the P.E.I. Grain Elevator in Elmsdale last week, but elevator manager Donald Stewart said it has been steady since noontime Monday. He expects truck traffic will remain steady for as long as the dry conditions hold.

Winter wheat and pea harvests are expected to start later this week.

Stewart said the early indication is the barley bushel weight in western P.E.I. is above average.

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