Adopting Resilient Farming Practices in a Changing Climate
Climate Change Impacts on Agriculture
Water resource management is a crucial practice when growing food, and as rainfall patterns in Nova Scotia change as a result of climate change, farmers have to adapt their practices in order to avoid losses to crop yield.
Climate change is anticipated to result in higher frequency of intense rainfall events and longer drought periods in between. Additionally, higher average temperatures may cause more evaporation resulting in lower surface and ground water levels. Lower water tables mean less water quantities in rivers, lakes, and in groundwater aquifers, which may affect farmers’ ability to irrigate their fields.
These changing conditions threaten to disrupt agricultural productivity by reducing crop yields and quality, and challenge livestock health, food security, and price stability (US Global Change Research Program, 2018).
CARP’s Adopting Resilient Farming Practices in a Changing Climate aims to demonstrate techniques that can benefit farm operations and increases the agricultural sector’s capacity to manage water and reduce crop vulnerability to drought and extreme weather events. This project is meant to aid the agricultural sector in implementing practices and technologies that help them adapt to a changing climate by improving their ability to manage water on the farm.
What are we doing?
CARP is partnering with farmers to showcase beneficial management practices that help the agricultural sector adapt to climate change. CARP has partnered with Spurr Brothers Farm (Melvern Square, NS) to demonstrate to the agricultural community and the public a practice for managing water levels in tile drained agricultural fields. Four tile drainage control structures were installed on two fields operated by the Spurr Brothers in South Farmington.
What is Controlled Tile Drainage?
Tile drain control structures, or water level control structures, allow farmers to manage and regulate water levels and discharge from agricultural fields. These structures are used in conjunction with agricultural tile drains (artificial subsurface drainage) to allow water to be shed from agricultural fields during the spring but also give farmers the ability to hold back water during the drier growing season, reducing the need for irrigation and making crops less susceptible to drought. These structures allow farmers to visually inspect the water level of their field and to insert or remove stop logs which control the level of water. This controlled drainage is designed to hold water in the root zone of crops when crops need it and release it when there is excess. Tile drain control structures are also designed with an overflow, to allow higher water levels to pass over the stop logs in the case of an unpredicted high precipitation event.
How it works:
Before planting in spring: Stop logs are removed to allow excess water to shed from the land so farmers may access their fields, as per usual.
After planting (during the growing season): Stop logs are added to raise the water table to store water for the crops. Farmers can control the level of water they hold back, and the timing and amount of water discharging from their drainage systems. This allows them to retain water for late season crop production and to protect crops against periods of drought.
Before harvest: Stop logs can be removed again before harvest if the soil is wet.
After harvest: When water retention in a field is not an issue, stop logs are inserted into the tile drain control structure to hold back water and to raise the groundwater level. This helps to hold in soil and nutrients that may have otherwise been lost due to rapid drainage during the winter rains and snow melt. Less drainage into nearby ditches and watercourses also decreases downstream flood risks and ecological damage.
Photos taken during the installation of the drainage level controls at Spurr Brothers Farms (2018)
Installed level control device (2019)