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Image: Sunset U-Pick

Extra summer rain challenging seasonal businesses

By Scott Pettigrew Jul 14, 2023 | 5:00 AM

It’s been raining quite a bit in southern New Brunswick over the past 10 weeks, saturating golf courses, taking away harvest days, and sinking campers. But despite the excessively wet conditions, it hasn’t been all bad according to local business owners.

“We haven’t had to irrigate,” says Sunset U-Pick co-owner Dave Walker of his strawberry farm which he operates with his wife, Susan. “It saves us time and labour, diesel fuel, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

“On the downside, we’ve reduced the number of days when we can harvest,” he says. “When those winds blow and the driving rain…everything gets wet, the staff gets wet and people get caught in the field. It’s a pain in the rear.”

Walker says excessively wet conditions can cause deterioration for berries that are left out too long in damp conditions, and that high-heat conditions, like the recent 30-degree days southern New Brunswick has been experiencing between showers, make berries mature faster than usual.

So far there have been lots of customers coming in to take advantage of the big, juicy berries when the weather permits, and the quality of the berries is still very high.

“We’ve had a lot of customers which has had our crop picked up…which has meant there isn’t overripe crop laying there,” he explains.

But with 250 rows of berries on the 15-acre farm, Walker says the fruit has ripened so quickly that Sunset U-Pick could easily take on even more pickers. He says the straw-filled row gaps drain the water and keep pickers from getting muddy.

Over at the Sussex KOA campsite and drive-in, owner Don Monahan is finding it challenging to deal with the wet conditions.

“We’ve never seen this period of rain in the late June to July timeframe,” he says.

For now, Monahan is trying to accommodate traffic on gravel campsites, but those are quickly filling up and he has to move people to grass sites, which have been having issues following periods of heavy rain.

“I’m getting a lot of tire ruts and mud that’s coming to the surface,” he says, adding that a few heavier vehicles have needed tows on the wettest days.

One area of riverside camping which he developed in 2020 has flooded with all the rain and will need a couple of weeks of dry weather to be usable. Campers there have been moved over to the main site.

“It’s not as wet in the main area of the campground but I still want to attend to it, put some topsoil down and grass seed and try to get them back to their original state before we come up on the holiday weekend in August,” he says.

At the drive-in, Monahan says the biggest impact has been people watching movies through the beat of the windshield wipers.

“We’re down about 18 per cent and it’s due to the weather,” he says. He adds that when the sun does shine people are ready to get out and enjoy those summer activities.

“We opened Indiana Jones last week… it was a very good weekend for us. We had one of our busiest nights on Saturday,” he says of the hot, clear evening. “And our reservations from now until the end of the season are up [almost 20 per cent] so we’re definitely trending in the right direction.”

The KOA is hosting Sussex Fundy Fest July 21-22 and Monahan is optimistic about the rest of the summer season. The campground is full but tickets to the event itself are still available.

“It’s the first music festival we’re doing at the drive-in,” he says. “I hope the rest of the summer is going to be beautiful and pristine.”

June saw 226.4 mm of rain fall in the Saint John region on 21 of the 30 days in that month. A year earlier, in 2022, June only saw 71 mm of rain which fell on 12 days out of 30. May was even more extreme with 93.4 mm falling in 2023, as compared to a mere 48.9 mm in 2022.

And July isn’t shaping up to be much better, with 88.6 mm having already fallen in the first 11 days of the month, as compared to 107.7 mm falling in the entirety of the month’s 31 days in 2022.

“We budget for six rain closure days, and we’ve already had five of them,” says Riverside Country Club general manager and PGA executive professional, Jason Porter. “Maybe mother nature will be perfect to us and we’ll have a nice, dry, rest of the summer… but there’s a good chance we’re going to get one or two rain days a month coming down the stretch.”

After big rainfalls he says use of power carts has to be restricted because of the damage they can cause to the soft, saturated course. Normal wear and tear is exacerbated by wet conditions.

“It does cause bigger ball marks, bigger divots, so there’s a little bit of damage that can happen to the golf course,” he says.

“Revenue wise I think this is where you see the biggest impact to a lot of golf courses,” he says.  “Being closed, the cold, the rain, all that stuff we’ve been going through impacts revenues…because you have a slower stream of golfers coming to your course.”

That leads to lower sales at pro shops, fewer green fees and less food and beverage revenue. But Porter says there is a silver lining to this rain cloud.

“It’s really helped the grass,” he laughs. “The golf course hasn’t looked this good in a long time. So there’s definitely a positive side to everything.”

Alex Graham is a reporter with Huddle, an Acadia Broadcasting content partner.


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