Dairy Farming in a Time of Drought

by Samantha Bacchus McLeod

The ongoing battle between dairy farmers and climate change has intensified, resulting in an arid landscape and a daily dairy crisis in the pursuit of water for food.

A dairy farmer, her sun-beaten hat providing scant shade against the unprecedented midday heat, ventured into the cornfield her hands grazing the waist high stalks. But instead of the lush-green lanes of corn that would normally greet her, patches of yellowed leaves and underdeveloped stalks stretched out before her.

This stunted growth is because of the the White Rock Lake wildfire in 2021 which led into flooding later that year. Then the drought and enforced water restrictions combined with the choking smoke has irrevocably changed the soil’s composition.

The specific measures taken by the government to assist farmers during the White Rock Lake wildfires, which burned for several weeks, was based on the province’s emergency response protocols. Any special provisions initiated were only for the short-term emergency response. Infrastructure needs to be in place for the long term if we hope to be food secure in BC, and all of Canada for that matter!

After the fires, came the 2021 flood disaster, which was one of the most devastating in its magnitude affecting more than 1,100 farms, 15,000 hectares and 2.5 million livestock. Atmospheric rivers brought heavy rainfalls, which poured down the mountainsides uninterrupted by forests and brush that once laid in its path, leading to this widespread flooding and landslides across the Fraser Valley. The flooding inundated fields, killed livestock, and disrupted supply chains almost irrevocably and to this day, many farms have not recovered.

The latest and most critical impact of climate change to hit dairy farmers where it hurts most is the current drought and the incomparable pain of seeing their cows’ consequent starvation. With the depletion of water resources comes the inevitable competition for water access.

To reiterate, between climate disasters, agricultural water needs and spawning salmon in the rivers, there is little left for growing food for cattle. Farmers need access to sustainable water supplies to grow feed for their herds, especially considering the price of grain which equates to more than half their income before all other farming expenses.

For example, when the temperature rises in the cities, people have access to unlimited hydro supply, and they have the luxury of installing affordable air conditioners to cool the temperatures down. They have the luxury of working from home when unprecedented weather patterns hit. Urbanites have access to grocery stores at every corner, and countless delivery services, and of course fresh clear water running from taps, indefinitel

Unfortunately, in the fields, infrastructure does not exist for unlimited access to energy, water supplies, and food, and so cattle and farmers must toil under overheated skies, underwatered and underfed. Farmers have to use generators to keep barns and milking stations regulated and that burns through fuel at an alarming rate. Interrupted supplies brings lasting devastation. When water dries up the aftermath is unconscionable.

In this fertile land where most of our food is grown, lies our only hope for food-security in BC. This is where laser-focussed attention is needed, here is where a proactive government must learn from past disasters and act now for the future of food sovereignty in Canada. Government must consult with local farmers, scientists, agricultural engineers, irrigation and water management experts, and environmental consultants specializing in climate change.

Water is life, and never in a million years could we have imagined Canada experiencing a water-war, and yet, here we are.

Right now, farmers are stuck between climate change and governments’ tardy responses to the ever-growing disaster that is decimating Canada’s food sovereignty.

To get involved and keep track of wat is being done go ahead and sign up for updates with The Agricultural Water Infrastructure Program.

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