Tips to Manage Farmland in the Summer

Agricultural production is dependent on weather and climate, especially when crops can fail and pastures become barren during excessive heat without adequate rainfall. As temperatures soar, it brings challenges to British Columbia’s agricultural sector – while springs are more mild, the transition into summer brings warmer temperatures and drier conditions. Higher temperatures and low precipitation tend to increase reliance on irrigation and water-resource management, especially across the interior of British Columbia. In addition to heat, the notorious wildfires in the province can result in the loss or relocation of livestock along with significant crop damage without proper prevention efforts.

In BC, access to adequate water has always been the greatest concern for producers in several regions. British Columbia depends on yearly snowpack and glacier melting to replenish stream water, and if the water flow decreases, it causes lower soil moisture and water shortages during the growing season. Below are some best practices and tips that farmers could consider while preparing for a hot summer in BC. 

Irrigation management: As the summer sun creates havoc, irrigation needs to be increased. Watering systems in the hotter months are considered by many to spray water over the orchard canopy and reduce temperatures through evaporation. This irrigation method needs up to 40% more water than normal requirements, and water quality needs to be considered carefully too. At the same time, over-irrigation needs to be avoided at all costs as it can lead to issues such as tree loss without proper drainage.

Overhead Netting: Overhead netting is becoming a popular crop-cooling method across the globe, and bright coloured nets made from polypropylene can help reduce sunburn and keep the temperatures low while offering protection from wind, birds, and hail. Some research has proven that overhead netting can help promote fruit colour and different colours of nets can have different positive impacts. Some people may also use light reflectors to redirect heat and harmful UV light from plants. For instance, applying white paint to young tree trunks reflects sunlight and lessens the risk of sunburn damage.

Fertilization: In summer, fertilizing isn’t usually a top priority, but it’s important. Healthy plants handle heat better, so fertilizing helps protect them. If young fruit trees and berry plants struggle in the heat, fertilize them. But go easy on mature trees with fruit to avoid damaging the harvest. Vegetables also benefit from regular summer fertilizing.

Mulching to the rescue: Mulching is a very common method to protect crops, especially berry plants, as it helps the soil retain moisture and creates cooler microenvironments at the base of the plant. Mulch can be a mixture of compost, composted manure, raked leaves, dried grass clippings, and other organic material such as bark, and it can be customized based on specific crops and their nutrition requirements.  

Soil Management: As summer tends to increase the pH of the soil, growers need to be wary of the acidic composition of the soil and need to prepare by mixing and matching their mulch depending on what crops they grow. While dealing with mulching, growers should pair crops that do better in acidic soil (pH 4 to 5.5) – crops like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, potatoes, and sweet potatoes do better with a mulch made from acidic material like pine bark, pine needles, peat moss, or cottonseed hulls in the summer season. 

Avoid Pruning in Summer: If possible, avoid pruning plants and trees during high heat periods of the summer. If a plant or tree has to be pruned, ensure that it is given extra fertilizer and water after it has been trimmed. Try to prune on comparatively cool days when the following 3-4 days are forecasted to have cooler temperatures. 

The Government of British Columbia offers a variety of in-person workshops and educational resources that provide farmers with practical, step-by-step water management advice and information about available financial support. With careful planning and a little bit of training, it is easier to manage farmland and protect your crops – even in the scorching heat!

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