The extremely dry growing season has been hitting Ontario farmers hard, particularly in the Niagara region. The effects of the intense heat combined with little to no rain has resulted in the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers and the Ontario Fresh Grape Growers’ Marketing Board asking the government to streamline Permit to Take Water (PTTW) procedures.
With the combination of low moisture levels leading up to the growing season and minimal rainfall through the season, the industry is scrambling to maintain its crops within the current water allotment allowance. Harvesting local, nutritious fruits of marketable size is a commitment growers make to the public. Now, Ontario farmers are turning to irrigation to maintain crop quality.
Matthias Oppenlaender, chair of Grape Growers of Ontario, noted, "Vineyards can sustain a lot of dry, hot weather. However, to produce economically viable yields, water is essential. This continuous lack of moisture has put tremendous strain on new grape plantings and existing vineyards."
In early July, the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers and the Ontario Fresh Grape Growers’ Marketing Board collaboratively sent a letter to the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC). The communication urged the government to collaborate with municipalities and growers to develop short-term and longer-term water infrastructure solutions.
The MOECC, supported by OMAFRA, heard the pleas of Ontario farmers and agreed to a streamlined approval process for PTTW. The streamlining of the approvals process will be done during the current growing season and on a temporary and short-term basis. Requests by growers will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis and may include takings from the Great Lakes and connecting channels, takings from dugout ponds and takings from neighbouring permitted sources such as ponds.
Patrick Spezowka, Supervisor, Program Support Services, MOECC in the South West Region, said, “the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change recognizes the unique and difficult situation faced by the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers and the Ontario Fresh Grape Growers. The streamlined urgent permitting process provides farmers with a solution to their immediate water taking needs. This process is available on a temporary and short-term basis during the current growing season to help maintain crop quality. We’ll continue to work collaboratively with the agriculture community to find solutions to current and future challenges.”
“Every water taking source is unique, and potential environmental impacts of the taking need to be evaluated,”says Sasha Novakovic, water specialist at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. “Growers are encouraged to contact their regional MOECC office or the OFVGA for additional information and support.”
Over the long-term, the government is committed to working with grower organizations in developing longer-term drought management solutions and infrastructure projects, particularly in the Niagara region, for tender fruit and fresh grape growers. Phil Tregunno, chair of the Ontario Tender Fruit Growers commented, “We look forward to working with the province and municipalities to implement water access strategies that will ensure a sustainable supply of local fruit for consumers.”
Rebecca Shortt, a water quantity engineer at OMAFRA, points to the importance of water conservation efforts as a whole, stating, “Efficient irrigation practices are always important but even more so during dry periods. Some practices which may help stretch irrigation to more crops include ensuring the irrigation system is applying the amount of water expected, using soil moisture instruments to ensure soil is at optimum moisture and avoiding irrigating non-target areas such as roadways and neighbouring fields.”
Despite water conservation efforts, the increasing demand for water has Grape Growers CEO, Debbie Zimmerman stating, "Weather patterns have changed significantly over the years and it will be our collective efforts to plan for these shifts in climate. Clearly we need the Ontario government and its relevant ministries to respond to the immediate needs of the growers with water taking strategies.”
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – Dry Conditions and Low Water Response
- Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – Irrigation
- Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change – Permits to Take Water
Bruce Kelly and Morgan Ellis, Farm & Food Care Ontario.