Irrigation wells recently drilled by G Visser & Sons in Albion are attracting the public’s attention.
The Orwell Cove-based potato company has installed six low capacity wells, two of which are monitoring wells.
In the face of differing opinions of farmers having access to water for irrigation and with the backdrop of the recent lifting of the moratorium of high capacity wells for agriculture use, Randy Visser, co-owner of the family-run farm said there’s no doubt it has been a contentious issue.
“It is not something we do flippantly,” Mr Visser said.
“We live here too.
“We all have fairly sizable families and our intention is to farm in a way that is sustainable to make a future for them as well.”
Ultimately they want people to realize the decisions they make when growing their crops are based on sound scientific principles.
“Irrigation is possible to do in PEI in a sustainable way,” Mr Visser said.
“The science says there is a lot of recharge capacity in PEI and the amount that farming would use for supplemental irrigation would not adversely affect that.”
Adam Jay, the farm’s Chief Operating Officer, said statistics put things into perspective.
“We extract the water from the ground and apply it in that same area to grow a crop,” Mr Jay said.
“There is some evaporation for sure and there is some water used by the crop, but it means there is also a lot of infiltration right back into the same watershed.”
“We want to make sure people know we are not just poking holes and blasting water everywhere,” Mr Visser said.
“There is a lot of thought, planning and technology that goes into all this and we are paying attention to the environmental impacts.”
It is the possibility of impacts on the environment that has people in the community asking questions and voicing concerns.
Charlie Hicken, a retired engineer lives a few kilometres down the road from the Vissers.
He was concerned with how much water flow could be used considering the size of the generator and the number of wells.
Mr Jay said the well sizes are something nearby residents have approached him about.
They respect the fact people have concerns and Mr Jay has been open to answering the questions.
“Water is one of the most important resources we have and we don’t want to jeopardize that,” Mr Visser said.
But even before they broke ground both the Department of Environment and Southeast Environmental Association, the local watershed group were consulted.
“Our intention is to collaborate with SEA to make sure there is an understanding of the project and an opportunity to discuss the data collected,” Mr Jay said.
Ian Petrie, a board member of SEA, said the intention is to contact local homeowners to see if there is any impact on their wells.
He points to the positive relationship that already exists between the farm and watershed groups across southern Kings County.
Mr Petrie said this collaboration will foster that.
“If a farmer comes forward and says ‘we want you to pay attention to what we are doing,’ as a watershed group it is our responsibility to become involved,” Mr Petrie said.
Since it has been a fairly good growing year so far with little need for a lot of supplemental irrigation it is yet to be determined what exactly that relationship will entail.
“Hopefully if we can show how watershed groups can be helpful and gather information this can be something we can pass onto other watershed groups,” he added.
The Albion field isn’t the farm’s first irrigation project.
An irrigation pond, established in 2017 is used for an acreage in another area.
Irrigation is one small part of helping the farm thrive. Other actions such as tillage, cover crops and using drought resistant varieties are also important.
“We don’t want to irrigate any more than we have to. We can also testify the irrigation we have done over the last few years has had significant results that are positive for the bottom line of the farm as far as return per acre,” Mr Visser said.
A spokesperson for the province said the wells were drilled before the Water Act came into play. They are considered low capacity and did not require permits. However, they must come into compliance with the Water Act in the next five years.
Mr Visser said they welcome the scrutiny.
Drought has become an increasing concern over the past decade and he is pleased to see it is being taken seriously through government regulation.