Pemberton farmers see weather as mixed blessing 

Farms see late planting seasons, but cold weather has helped avert floods

The gray, overcast skies of "June-uary" are proving a mixed blessing for farmers in the Pemberton Valley.

A stingy spring has seen very little sun penetrate the clouds and shine down into the valley, and the result has been that farmers have been planting their seeds late, a development that could mean they won't get nearly the same produce that they would, had they started earlier.

That has certainly been the case for Pemberton Valley Farms, a property located at the north end of the Pemberton Meadows near the entrance to the Upper Lillooet Forest Service Road.

Owner Marty Van Loon said that he was about a week late in planting seed potatoes, the product for which the Pemberton Valley is most widely known. He said he likes to make sure that his fields are dry before he starts planting, because when potatoes are subsumed in water, they start to rot.

"We were probably up to a week later on average," he said. "Some people were more than that because of the locations of their fields. Some are low, some are near streams that are high, it varies. It depends what field you're in."

Van Loon's biggest concern about farming is that if you don't get growth in the spring and you don't have a crop growing on schedule, then you worry about the fall because you can't grow enough food in the interim.

"As we saw in the Fraser Valley last year, they got huge rains in September and they got very little of their crop up, 40 per cent or so," he said, referring to an event that lost Fraser Valley farmers about $30 million in agricultural crops. "So if it pushes you back in the spring, you're fighting bad weather in the fall."

At the same time, however, the cold weather has kept Van Loon's farm from experiencing floods. The past winter saw record snowfalls, which can lead to very high water levels if they melt too quickly.

Pemberton Valley Farms is located between Salmon Slough and the Lillooet River, the latter a glacier-fed stream. And when there's high snowpack, there's always the risk of flooding.

"With farming, it's a bit like Vegas," Van Loon said. "You're gambling with unpredictable weather. In any business that's depending on weather, it throws a spin you can't control into your business, so we're always watching the weather."

The experience has been similar for Bruce Miller, the co-owner of Across the Creek Organics, a farm that specializes in organic table potatoes. He wanted to be finished with planting by the end of May but he said he ended up about two weeks behind.

"It was a long, drawn-out planting season," he said. "Usually we plant, we go away for a few weeks and then come back and the crop's up. This year, but the time we finished planting, our first potatoes were up. Instead of planting in 10 days, it took us more like 30 days."

The potatoes grew quickly, Miller said, because they germinated in the ground quicker than he expected. He normally tries to plant his slow growing crops first and his fast-growing crops last, but this year they just came in faster.

Potatoes, however, aren't the only crops that have been hit by the weather. Al McEwan, who runs a strawberry farm in the Meadows, said the overcast weather has delayed the ripening of his berries.

"The moisture is good for berries, we've got a nice crop coming, but we're about ten days later than normal," he said. "Everything in moderation is what we look for in a farm. We do need the moisture, obviously, but we don't want torrential rain because that will bring on fruit rot. We want sun at the right time, but we don't want 42 degrees either."




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