There is mixed reaction in the farming community to a new Prince Edward Island irrigation strategy.
Last week, the province ended its 20-year moratorium on high-capacity wells for agriculture. The high-capacity wells can draw as much as 500 gallons of water per minute, and concern was raised about the effect they have on the Island's groundwater levels.
Starting June 11, farmers can apply to the provincial government for a licence to drill a high-capacity well to water their crops.
The P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture applauds the end of the moratorium, saying it will level the playing field by providing farmers the same access to a vital resource as other businesses such as golf courses.
"We're very pleased with the outcome and look forward to beginning the process of developing new high-capacity wells," said Donald Killorn, executive director of the federation.
"There's certainly a need."
Required to improve soil first
As part of the process for receiving a permit, farmers will have to work with the province to develop a plan to improve the health of their soil.
Healthy soil is better at retaining moisture and requires less fertilizer.
Killorn believes requiring soil health improvement plans is "a wonderful way to sequester carbon. As well, soil organic matter ensures we can continue to grow food while decreasing our reliance on synthetic fertilizers."
The P.E.I. Certified Organic Producers Co-op says it is encouraged to see the province's new irrigation strategy, but said it's not clear what steps farmers who irrigate will have to take to improve their soil.
We kind of wanted irrigation to be a tool in the toolbox, but one of the last ones you grab. — Sally Bernard
"The words are clear that they recognize the importance of water management, so that part is great," said Sally Bernard with Barnyard Organics in Freetown, P.E.I., and the president of the co-op.
"Looks like there's going to be lots of monitoring and transparency coming up ... that's all great. Where we are concerned it's falling a little bit flat is, we kind of wanted irrigation to be a tool in the toolbox, but one of the last ones you grab: that farmers would be doing a lot of things to mitigate the need for irrigation."
Organic producers had suggested spring plowing, soil cover, longer crop rotations, forest management and more that are not referenced in the strategy, Bernard said.
"We feel like it's missing some of what could be required in terms of permitting, some of the things we could be asking of farmers in order to get permits," she said.
Organic producers also note a delay in setting up an independent water authority.
The province said the authority will oversee not just irrigation but all water use on P.E.I., but it will take time and further consultations to determine exactly how that will work.
In the meantime, the province will continue to be in charge of issuing water extraction permits.
Bernard said organic producers are "cautiously optimistic" and will keep an eye on the process to see how it rolls out once permitting begins.