The Gleaner

Bring on more snow!

Many were celebrating a few weeks ago when our friendly prognosticating groundhogs mostly predicted an early spring. And then the weather sprang all too suddenly, sparking record temperatures, significant sap runs, and the disappearance of most remaining snow cover in our fields. It was lovely, but also an ominous continuation of the unseasonable shifts we have been experiencing during this rollercoaster of a winter.

Environment and Climate Change Canada says snow cover has significantly declined since the 1970s. Most Quebec regions now have much less snow than usual. Meteorologists are attributing this to record temperatures and fewer significant snowfalls. New sleds, skis, and boards received by children on a green Christmas have barely seen any use, and while there have been snow days called by local schools, these were in fact brought on by freezing rain. It has also been difficult for fans of recreational activities such as snowmobiling or cross-country skiing, or anyone trying to maintain a rink.

The return of more seasonal weather and especially a few inches of snow this past week was a good thing. Snow cover throughout winter provides vital protection for agricultural soils, which are at greater risk of erosion and loss of sediment when temperatures rise above zero and we receive rain. This washes precious topsoil into streams, especially when riparian strips are insufficient or absent. Uncovered soils can also lose significant amounts of nitrogen either to leaching or the volatilization of ammonia to nitrous oxide, which is a potent greenhouse gas.

Less snow is also problematic for overwintering crops. Plants under snow are insulated and much less likely to be damaged during freeze/thaw cycles. A good coating of snow also protects tree and plant roots. Researchers have found that sugar maples whose roots are exposed to extreme cold without snow cover can experience damage that can restrict growth or cause them to die off. Given how important the maple syrup industry is to our region, this must have been a concern for producers who were tapping in the mud at the start of the month.

It’s just February, so there is still time for the predictions of warmer weather by our clairvoyant rodents to come true. And now, area farmers can breathe a little easier knowing their fields are once again nicely blanketed.
Sarah Rennie

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