BU study targets farmers’ flooding problem

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While Westman producers are still recovering from more than 200 millimetres of rain that covered the region in late June, members of Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute are hard at work trying to figure out the best way to get rid of all this excess moisture.

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This article was published 30/07/2020 (750 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

While Westman producers are still recovering from more than 200 millimetres of rain that covered the region in late June, members of Brandon University’s Rural Development Institute are hard at work trying to figure out the best way to get rid of all this excess moisture.

Since last year, the RDI, led initially by Bill Ashton, has been identifying different investment strategies that farmers could potentially use to mitigate flooding on their land.

After crunching the numbers and using a cost-benefit framework, Prof. Alexander Koiter told the Sun that his research team eventually landed on several different methods of excess moisture management, which includes using water reservoirs, tile drainage, land grading and cover cropping.

An aerial drone shot of Lawrence Williamson’s canola fields, located southwest of Brandon, earlier this month. This part of the region received more than 10 inches of rain within one week following the massive thunderstorms that began on June 28. (Submitted)

“That was phase one of that particular activity,” he said on July 17. “What we’re doing now is we’re looking to talk to some producers and see whether these values, in terms of costs and benefits, are actually being realized by producers. So basically validating what we found.”

Koiter went on to say that this study couldn’t come at a better time, since a lot of Westman farmers are witnessing unprecedented levels of flooding on their property following the massive rainstorms from late June.

Not only are vulnerable crops like canola getting completely drowned out by this overabundance of precipitation, but some farmers can’t even access their fields to perform very basic tasks.

Alexander Koiter poses for a photo outside his Brandon home on July 21. The Brandon University professor is currently spearheading a study on excess moisture management in Westman that is set to wrap up by the end of the year or early 2021. (Kyle Darbyson/The Brandon Sun)

“They can’t take a tractor out. It would just literally sink,” Koiter said. “So in terms of spraying herbicides for pest control, that presents a big logistical challenge for some producers.”

The recent rainfall in Westman also provides Koiter and his researchers with more recent data, which paints a much broader picture of how excess moisture can wreak havoc on the Westman agricultural community at different times of the year.

“When we first started this project, we were thinking really hard about the 2011 Assiniboine River flood,” he said. “That was kind of in everyone’s mind, how a lot of this excess moisture is typically associated with spring snow melt. But even these really intense thunderstorms (in the summer) can produce conditions that also drown out fields. So it’s not just a springtime problem.”

To make matters even more dire, Koiter says that rapidly changing climate conditions are causing these kinds of extreme weather events to happen more frequently, with four of the top 10 Assiniboine River floods all happening within the last 25 years.

“So we’re starting to see that it’s becoming a little more common and they tend to be a bit bigger,” he said. “And the bigger they are, the more costly it is.”

Koiter and his research team are still in the data collection phase of this project, and will be spending the next couple months conducting interviews with farmers and comparing their notes.

By the end of the year, or early 2021, the RDI will get a better idea if at least one their proposed flooding mitigation strategies are a practical, affordable and effective solution for Westman farmers.

“So the solution to flooding isn’t necessarily just bigger and better diking systems,” Koiter said. “There might be a lot of opportunities for (different) on-farm investments that benefit both the downstream users and the producers.”

To view a more comprehensive breakdown of the RDI’s study into excess moisture management, visit brandonu.ca/rdi/projects/excess-moisture-management.

» kdarbyson@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson

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