Landscape firms and farms feel the blues

The dry spell is bringing some trees into bloom in Singapore – including this one along Orchard Road at the junction of Handy Road. There is “unusually heavy” flowering among yellow flame trees in Singapore, said Nature Society president Shawn Lum.

SINGAPORE - As a rare spell of dry weather here persists, grass has turned brown and farmers and landscapers are feeling the blues.

Farmers are turning to tap water as their reservoirs run out quickly, but this also means higher utility costs.

"There is no rain water to replenish our reservoirs, they are almost dry," said Mr Alan Toh, 50, director of Yili Vegetation & Trading in Kranji. "We need to mix tap water with existing reservoir water to water our plants."

His vegetables - including caixin and xiao bai cai - need to be watered more often to ensure they survive. But this has raised his utilities costs by about 40 per cent in the last month.

"We have to cut back production," said Mr Toh, whose farm can produce up to nine tonnes of vegetables a month. "If this continues, how will farmers survive?"

Nearby plot Farm 85 is in the same bind. "None of us wants to use tap water - it's expensive. But in this case, we have no choice," said owner Tan Koon Hua, 45.

The water situation is so dire that farmers from the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) met PUB representatives yesterday to ask for help.

The national water agency offered them non-potable water, or untreated water, at 25 cents per cubic m, excluding transportation. While this is much cheaper than potable water, farmers said this did not help.

"We thank PUB for their generosity, but when you add in trucking costs for the water, the solution is just not feasible," said Mrs Ivy Singh-Lim, chairman of the KCA, which represents nearly 40 farms in the Lim Chu Kang area.

She hopes PUB can waive fees such as the water conservation tax instead for the time being.

Landscaping businesses too are feeling the heat.

At Island Landscape & Nursery, workers have been scrambling to water the plants in condominiums and private gardens where it has projects. It sees operating costs rising by about 20 per cent but will "do its best to cope", said senior manager of production Bipin Krishna.

The dry weather may mean withering bottom lines for some, but a few bright spots remain.

"My mango tree, frangipani and bougainvillea are flowering like crazy. They like dry heat," said Mrs Singh-Lim.

The weather has also led to "unusually heavy" flowering among yellow flame trees in Singapore, said Nature Society president Shawn Lum.

Chairman of the Landscape Industry Association (Singapore) John Tan hopes landscape firms will share water resources.

"The Met service says the dry weather would persist into the first half of March. We are praying for a miracle," he said.

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