Booming resource development is changing the landscape and economy of the Peace, BC’s largest agricultural region. The energy sector places high demands on much of the same land, water and transportation infrastructure used for agricultural production.

It is a delicate balance, but two IAF-funded projects are helping to ensure there is space for both industries to grow.

At a regional level, the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) is working to develop an agriculture strategy that encompasses the entire region’s agricultural capacity (B0016.36). It’s an ambitious undertaking for an area that has 1.4 million hectares (27 percent) of BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve, and over 825,000 hectares in production.

“It is a priority for our board to develop a regional agricultural plan to support the sector as an essential component of our economic, environmental, cultural future,” says Bruce Simard, general manager of development services for PRRD. “We want to be proactive in working with industry, government and producers to move beyond the issues and make it work for everybody.”

For over a year, the PRRD has worked closely with members of the agriculture community and public across the region to surface issues, and identify priorities. Now in the final stages of plan development, there are some clear themes emerging.

“This region has been traditionally known for its agricultural importance, but that is quickly being overshadowed by energy development,” says Simard. “One of the themes coming up is the need to raise awareness about the importance of agriculture in our region.”

“We also need to look at improving the communications and relationships between those resource interests and agriculture. Looking at demands for water and concerns about climate change where they overlap, for example.”

In many ways, the energy sector and agriculture groups are already finding ways to work together. The Peace River Forage Association has been working with energy companies since 2012 to identify forage varieties and seed mixes that can be used to re-vegetate land disturbed by oil and gas activity (A0684.1).

“The soil conditions on these sites are poor because a lot of it is subsoil,” says Bill Wilson, who leads the project for the Peace River Forage Association. “We want to find species or fertilizer conditions that will help something grow there, and grow quickly to keep invasive species or weeds from getting established, and to prevent erosion.”

The project began with a focus on forage species but soon branched out to include seeding techniques, fertility, timing of seeding and other factors. The information generated by the project laid the foundation for collaboration on a series of soil and re-vegetation workshops with the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC). The one-day courses are available to UNBC students, forage producers, and contractors and employees in the oil and gas sector.

“The oil and gas companies are taking the information that we are gathering and are keen to use it,” says Wilson. “The industry is really excited about the new courses, and it has all spun out of the re-vegetation research and demonstration project.”

Funding: $45,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework (B0016.36); $177,500 through the federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (A0684, phase 1) and $86,540 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework (A0684, phase 2).