Driediger Farms Enjoys Record Numbers

For locals and tourists alike, Driediger Farms Market offers an irresistible Fraser Valley destination, with an abundance of fresh and frozen berries, a bounty of BC products from other local purveyors, and events and U-Pick fields for day-at-the-farm fun.

While the Farm has already helped propel several BC businesses into another phase of growth, Rhonda Driediger felt they could do more and decided to extend their marketing efforts to a broader customer base.

With better roadway signage and a combination of print, radio, online and TV advertising, the Driedigers launched their “local BC all under one roof” campaign closer to the Vancouver region, as well as the Chinese- and Japanese-speaking communities (the former representing one of the fastest growing populations in BC).

According to Rhonda, communicating with their guests in their preferred language represents a significant milestone.

“Marketing directly to the Asian community is new to the Fraser Valley farming industry,” she explains, noting that this demographic represents a large number of BC residents that had little to no communication of the buy local message.”

In less than a year, it was clear that this had changed as both English- and Mandarin-speaking visitors flocked to the farm in record numbers.

“Our 2016 market season saw unprecedented sales results not only in revenue but in product volumes,” reports Rhonda, adding that project results in 2017 were almost equally impressive, despite crop loss due to poor weather.

In addition to revenue spikes in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Rhonda was thrilled to see the number of visitors to their Summer Festival grow by over 1,500, as well as a surge of Facebook likes to the tune of 22,000 and counting, and an expansion of value chain partners.

For Rhonda, the ripple effect extending to other agri-businesses is a testament not just to the project’s success, but to a key tenet of the buy local movement—maximizing benefits across the value chain.

“Because of the increase in traffic and sales, we’ve been able to expand our product assortment and add 11 new vendors at the market,” she explains. “Now that we’re a recognized brand within the community we’re able to increase exposure and sales for more BC products, including from more remote areas of the province.”

Part of that exposure is through in-store signage that features free advertising for their vendors with detailed information about the specific farms and manufacturers sold under the Driediger umbrella.

And with growing numbers of locavore converts, Rhonda is finding that public support is leveraging these efforts beyond all expectations, with visitors increasingly engaging online and tweeting and posting pictures of themselves with the Driediger signs on social media.

“The increase in visitors not just from the Asian community but from outside the Fraser Valley is proof of this campaign’s success,” she declares. “We are now the go-to spot for easy access to a diverse collection of premium BC products.”

Funding: $44,021 provided by the BC Government. (BL224)

Poultry Production Goes Paperless

The first of its kind in Canadian poultry production, the BC Chicken Marketing Board’s new Grower Dashboard is pioneering how BC poultry farms are managed.

While the online system was primarily intended to replace and simplify the Daily Activity Sheet (a federal requirement for all flocks as they move through the production system), it has happily evolved into a single-serve database that promises to improve grower management and enhance industry communication.

“Previously our sector used paper-based reporting and tracking of flocks to adhere to the On-Farm Food Safety, Animal Care and BC Poultry Biosecurity Program requirements,” explains Shawn Mallon, the architect of the dashboard and Manager of Administration with the Board. “The new web-based, mobile-ready platform provides a single point of entry that not only reduces time and waste generated by paper-based reporting, but allows producers to compare data from year-to-year, organize and prepare for audits, and provides real-time access for industry managers to potentially identify issues as soon as they arise in an individual flock.”

With the ability to assess their performance based on past cycles and industry averages, growers can now make more informed management decisions regarding feed consumption, mortality and antimicrobial use.

According to Mallon, the key to the Dashboard’s success lies in industry adoption, which will generate more data for the Board to work with.

“The more growers use the program, the more useful the information will be and the more meaningful the data becomes when looking at industry trends” Mallon emphasizes, adding that this will also enable the Board to develop better and more accurate programming for producers.

One of the first to test the new platform at his broiler farm in Abbotsford, Brad Driediger of Windberry Farms is now a vocal proponent of the Dashboard and echoes the call for broader usage.

“We have a vital tool that will allow for a more coordinated approach in dealing with industry-wide issues such as flock mortality,” he explains. “This type of data isn’t usually captured or reported collectively, making it difficult for the Board to determine either causes or solutions.”

For Driediger, the Dashboard’s ability to facilitate greater industry connection is perhaps its most important feature, allowing him and other growers to receive timely news and notices on their main page.

Over time, the Board anticipates increasing environmental and economic impacts.

“As producers use the program to measure baselines and increase efficiencies, they will be able to optimize feed and the use of other inputs, decreasing waste and increasing returns,” Mallon predicts.

At the moment there is also talk of expanding the dashboard to other members of the value chain, and even nationally through the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC).

“If CFC adopts the dashboard for all broiler producers in Canada, then they can use their communication resources to launch the dashboard to the other provincial Boards,” says Mallon. “Other poultry commodities would find this dashboard useful, as well as hatcheries and processors, which would further enhance industry traceability and efficiency.”

Funding: $33,641 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN200)

Protecting the Future of Food & Farmland in Kelowna

The City of Kelowna is looking forward to their agricultural future, thanks to their newly updated ag plan.

After an 18-month planning process and extensive consultation with both industry and residents, the city’s sustainability coordinator, Tracy Guidi is confident the revised plan reflects the values of a community that holds agriculture at its core.

“Agriculture is such an integrated part of the culture of our city, whether you are a farmer or not,” says Guidi. “And with over 55 percent of our land zoned for agriculture, it is critical that we take steps now to preserve and promote local agriculture and ensure its long-term sustainability.”

With the original plan created in 1998, a modernized framework was desperately needed to provide what the city calls “clear policy and land use direction” that will ensure city agricultural policies are up-to-date, align with the official community plan and reflect recent changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

According to Guidi, safeguarding local agriculture, stewarding natural resources for food production, improving public awareness and access to local food, and identifying opportunities to strengthen farming as an economic driver were all prioritized during consultations.

“Preserving farmland in the face of increasing urbanization was identified as one of the most pressing issues,” she noted, adding that even land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is at risk as it tends to be flat, affordable, geographically appealing and often ideally located, making it desirable for urban development.

For city councillor Tracy Gray, discussion over agricultural land has been fraught with conflict.

“Almost half of our land base is in the ALR so we see the agriculture-urban issues frequently,” she explains. “It creates tension and uncertainty for farmers, residents and among neighbors close to that land.”

In an effort to alleviate some of the pressure, the new plan will focus on updating mapping tools, increasing opportunities for locally grown food, preserving local rural character and building community resilience towards climate change and the rising costs of food.

A total of 51 specific actions are recommended in the new agricultural plan, ranging from targets like restricting non-farm uses on farmland to exploring alternative ownership models to boost production.

So far industry response to the revamp has been overwhelmingly positive, with support from the BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) and the provincial Agricultural Land Commission, to name a few.

BCFGA president, Fred Steele is highly appreciative of the city’s leadership on the issue.

“The BCFGA is pleased to support and endorse the agriculture plan developed by the City of Kelowna,” says Steele. “We believe the plan reflects the current situation and promotes the economic contribution of the agriculture sector in Kelowna, and we are excited to work with the city on its successful implementation.”

The new ag area plan can be viewed at www.kelowna.ca.

Funding: $18,590 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (B0016.43)

Biopod Paves Way for Greenhouse Innovation

There’s been a lot of buzz over the Surrey BioPod Project recently and with good reason—the joint initiative between the University of Fraser Valley (UFV), the John Volken Academy (JVA) and the City of Surrey is an unique enterprise that is advancing agricultural research and food production technology, while offering job training and certification to JVA students in recovery.

While the BioPod may sound like a page borrowed from science fiction, its potential is equally fantastic and real. With funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, UFV spearheaded the construction of the novel light-diffusing greenhouses where researchers could pilot new technologies related to pest prevention, liquid nutrient delivery, vertical growing systems and water and heat conservation, among others.

According to Garry Fehr, director of UFV’s Agriculture Centre of Excellence, the innovations are everything they had hoped.

“With two new greenhouses now fully operational, we not only have a new venue for research, demonstration, teaching and job training, but can offer industry new tools to keep on the forefront of sustainable practices in both organic and conventional production,” says Fehr.

The Affinor Growing Towers installed in the BioPod proved especially promising, yielding 14 times what would conventionally be grown in the same floor space, while reducing grower costs related to energy, water and pest control.

For Fehr, another advantage is the vertical growing system’s adaptability to existing greenhouses.

“A one-acre greenhouse can potentially expand vertically to the equivalent of a 15-acre greenhouse without the additional costs of expansion,” he explains, adding that vertical growing also reduces the cost of nutrients and fertilizers through its recirculating system.

The UFV team is particularly excited about the BioPod’s potential to produce new crops in BC, or in the case of Wasabi, to fill a gap in the local, organic market.

“Despite considerable consumer demand, there were previously no organic trials performed since local production began in 2013,” says Fehr, noting that unlike conventional wasabi, which is produced in a water-based environment, organic wasabi requires a soil-based approach.

But thanks to plants donated by a local producer, researchers from UFV and Simon Fraser University (SFU) have been successfully growing organic wasabi in the BioPod for the last year!

Having proved the BioPod’s economic, social and environmental benefits and won the BC Union of Municipalities award for Leadership and Innovation in Agriculture, the project has continued to garner attention and grow in momentum.

UFV is currently considering proposals from five companies eager to demonstrate or test additional greenhouse technology prototypes in the BioPod, while Fehr coordinates future research projects with SFU, Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the BC Institute of Technology.

So far two students have received their Statement of Completion in the Horticulture Technician Apprenticeship Program at the JVA and are now able to pursue a career in agriculture, as several more await their turn.

Funding: $232,421 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN121)

A Homegrown Solution for BC Hop Growers

As hop growers the world over know, a successful harvest demands a delicate balancing act. With hop cones containing close to 84 percent moisture at harvest, growers have a narrow window in which they must reduce moisture down to ten percent, while conditioning the crop to ensure each part of the cone dries evenly.

To further complicate matters, both drying and conditioning must adhere to prescribed limits of temperature, air humidity, air speed and time, and account for variables such as environmental factors, conditions of the crop at harvest, and varietal differences. And as many growers have had the frustration of discovering, both under-drying and over-drying will compromise the quality of the hops and their storage life.

Fortunately there is a new solution at hand for BC hop growers, thanks to a project by Vice Design to develop a sensor-monitored drying and conditioning unit for farms between five and 100 acres (which accounts for nearly all hop operations in BC).

Raymond Bredenhof, Chair of the BC Hop Growers Association (BCHGA), is among many who have been seeking an improved alternative for small-scale producers. While commercially available models already existed, Raymond insists they missed the mark in serving the needs of the BC industry.

“Previous methods either involved building modular equipment on-site, purchasing a small commercial modular system or buying a large commercial option, with each of these methods entailing their own setbacks and complications,” he describes.

Larger commercial units, for instance, not only constitute a major capital investment, they also require intensive infrastructures and do not accommodate hop farms under 50 acres. And because most companies are based in the United States or Germany, they can provide only limited support—a significant drawback considering the intense and timely nature of hop farming.

“Once ripe, the hop harvest window is approximately two to three weeks,” explains Raymond, “so time spent waiting for a part or technical support is revenue lost through wasted product.”

According to Vice Design president, James Boileau, BC producers now have access to local support and affordable technology that will consistently produce high quality hops in good time.

“There are specific standards in dried hops required by many breweries in order to create quality beer, making it essential that hop producers have a reliable method of drying and conditioning their product,” says James, who anticipates the unit will provide a 20 percent revenue boost based on spoilage reduction and enhanced quality.

For Raymond and others in the BCHGA, the new machinery is especially advantageous to new entrants to the industry.

“One of the most difficult and daunting tasks to a new farmer in the hop industry is sourcing equipment,” he emphasizes. “Reducing this impairment can only help increase the opportunity for success in the burgeoning industry of hop production.”

During a recent open house to showcase the device, many small- to medium-scale hops producers were similarly impressed, especially with the ability to custom modify the unit to suit producer output.

“Many hops farmers have expressed interest in our machine,” James reports hopefully. “Time will tell if our solution becomes widely adopted or not.”

Funding: $74,591 committed through the federal-provincial Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AF014-A151)

BC Sales Soar for Big Mountain Foods

After wrapping up a year-long local marketing campaign across BC, Big Mountain Foods (BMF) was able to ring in the New Year with record demand for its increasingly popular Original Veggie Patty.

As part of the BMF initiative, the family business was able to revitalize their brand with funding to launch social media promos, host in-store and consumer tradeshow demos, and develop new product packaging and marketing materials.

According to BMF’s vice president, Jasmine Chamberland, results were almost immediate, especially following their in-store presentations.

“On average, each demo sold 100 units per store within a four hour period,” Jasmine reports, adding that for many shoppers, buying local proved as much a priority as eating healthy.

The Chamberland family has since witnessed growing interest from both consumers and retailers, leading to increased listings, sales and online exposure. By the end of 2017, BMF had gained over 1,000 followers on social media (many of whom are now actively promoting their veggie patty) and was also invited back to Veg Expo and Healthy Family Expo because of overwhelming customer response.

And with a 40 percent increase in sales by year end, BMF is equally optimistic about their 2018 forecast.

“Thanks to our new and enhanced marketing abilities we were able to get consumers talking about our company more than ever before and create a locally recognized brand that has opened the door to larger retailers,” says Chamberland.

With Loblaw and Walmart on their immediate radar (their largest accounts to date), the Chamberlands are expecting to double sales starting in 2018.

While Jasmine is excited to see instant acceleration, she is more interested in the long-term impacts on the business and the benefits unfolding for her community.

“With the increased demand we have been able to evolve from a small- to a medium-sized food manufacturer that is creating more jobs and sourcing more local ingredients,” she explains, noting that BMF has since employed four more full-time staff and now purchase truckloads of local ingredients instead of pallets.

Funding: $61,960 provided by the BC Government. (BL255)

One Fund, Seven Million

There’s still $7 million in project funding available to BC’s agriculture and agri-food industry through the Agri-Food Futures Fund (AFFF)! Often the unsung hero of IAF’s program portfolio, the AFFF initiative has nonetheless proven profoundly instrumental in advancing a diversity of sectors throughout the province.

Established with federal-provincial funding in 2001, AFFF has contributed more than $21 million to hundreds of projects, since inception, in areas like agri-tourism, environmental management, Aboriginal agriculture, food and beverage processing, agroforestry, emerging sectors and more.

“By aiding in the expansion of both established and emerging agricultural and food processing sectors, the AFFF initiative has fulfilled a vital role in strengthening BC agriculture as a whole,” says IAF chair, Ken Bates, adding that AFFF also has a potentially significant part to play as the industry pursues the goal of $15 billion in revenue per year by 2020.

It was AFFF funding that supported the development of a business model that provides Aboriginal entrepreneurs with a template for launching their own line of value-added products under distinctly native-themed branding. Using the template, Aboriginal communities can create a business plan that reflects their individual situations in terms of regional natural resources, land and human resource availability, potential economic development and more.

The Islands Agriculture Show owes its origin to the pilot project funded through the Islands Agri-Food Initiative under AFFF. After a successful first run, the show evolved into an annual event and remains the only agricultural trade show serving the farm and food community on Vancouver Island, Coast and Gulf Islands.

Across the pond, farmers and environmentalists in the Lower Mainland are receiving project support to explore the cultivation of ecosystem services on farmland that will help protect salmon habitat, maintain clean water, provide overwintering habitat for migratory birds and more.

While there are many sectors and projects that receive funding through this initiative, there are certain areas of priority under AFFF, including emerging sectors, food safety and quality, and food and beverage processing.

Emerging sectors are characterized by a potential to introduce new production systems, products, markets, standards, processes, management practices or technologies into the industry. Eligible projects usually address the gaps in applied scientific knowledge, technology adaptation and transfer, pre-commercialization exploration, skills, business development and collaboration with potential partners in order to seize new business opportunities.

Applications are open to all emerging sectors in the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products industries, including:

  • Small scale/lot agriculture
  • Natural health products
  • Aboriginal agriculture
  • Agri-tourism and direct farm marketing
  • Bio-products
  • New environmental management practices
  • Apiculture
  • Small-scale food processing
  • Women
  • Mushrooms

Funding is also available for small-to-large scale food and beverage processors for projects that align with one or more of the following strategic priorities under the AFFF Food and Beverage Processing Initiative:

  • Enhance the sectoral competitive position of BC food and beverage processors
  • Build BC’s reputation as a leader in health and lifestyle-oriented products
  • Build business relationships and collaboration with value-chain partners
  • Enhance communications and coordination among industry stakeholders

All applications should demonstrate a broad benefit to BC’s agriculture and/or agrifoods sectors. AFFF is a cost-shared program, with both financial and in-kind project contributions considered for matching funding.

Talk to us today to learn more about program eligibility and requirements!

Funding for the Agri-Food Futures Fund is provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia. (A0677ES, AF002-I0497, AF021-006AE-SP)

Dairy Farmers Find Multiple Benefits with Robotic Milking

For dairy farmers across Canada, Automated Milking Systems (AMS) represent an increasingly compelling alternative that can help reduce labour costs while increasing milking frequency. Although adoption of AMS is growing quickly on BC dairy farms, the new trend is not without its hurdles.

Learning to use the technology and transitioning cows from traditional milking parlors can be a daunting process for many producers, with lameness posing a particular problem as cows must voluntarily visit the robot milker. Even after these challenges are addressed, there remains the potential issue of public perception regarding how the new system affects animal welfare.

For Dr. Jeffrey Rushen with the University of British Columbia, understanding Best Management Practices for AMS and their effects on cow health, production and welfare is essential to ensuring both producer and consumer acceptance. And with funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program delivered by IAF, he was able to do just that.

As part of a national research project, Dr. Rushen’s team conducted a survey of more than 500 AMS dairy farms across Canada to explore the impacts of the technology on cows and how producers managed the transition.

“The survey enabled us to determine the most common problems encountered and the most effective solutions developed, as well as identifying the housing and management practices used on AMS operations that have facilitated good cow welfare and performance,” explains Dr. Rushen.

For the most part, they found that cleaning and feeding practices remained the same on AMS farms, while the majority of producers believed that milk yield and conception rates increased and time devoted to milking-related activities decreased by 62 percent.

According to Dr. Rushen, the majority of producers (86 percent) are happy they made the switch and are already enjoying improved profits and quality of life for both themselves and their cows.

And, with the ability to now automatically capture data, farmers can also more readily identify and treat at-risk cows, further improving their overall health, productivity and welfare.

Dr. Rushen hopes their findings will pave the way for other producers considering the transition to AMS.

“Automatic milking represents the future for many dairy farmers,” he says. “We want to make sure the BC industry is aware of both the benefits and the challenges of this new technology and that they have a plan in place for making the transition.”

UBC’s research will also help inform changes to the national Dairy Code of Practice to ensure it applies to AMS operations. So far a subset of 11 recommendations to the Code were identified as a result of the survey.

More information about the project and AMS technology is available in the Journal of Dairy Science.

Funding: $64,905 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.(INN174)

Big D’S Sees Big Returns

The pumpkins are coming! And Daniel and Justine Ludwig, owners of Big D’s Bees Honey, couldn’t be more excited about this season’s Pumpkin Fest at Coastal Black Estate Winery.

The annual event at the Comox Valley family farm has evolved into a community staple, drawing droves of visitors every October to enjoy a day full of festivities, including corn and hay bale mazes, hay wagon rides, a petting zoo, pumpkin bowling and the climactic Pumpkin Chunkin’ Trebuchet, where revelers launch pumpkins over 380 feet.

While last year’s festival was a bit more eventful than they had bargained (their debut Corn Maze was laid waste by 80 kilometer winds and record-breaking rain), the Ludwigs nonetheless had special cause to celebrate as the 2016 Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest came to a close.

Not only were they able to successfully launch their new Pumpkin Spice Honey through their BC government-funded initiative, they were also able to enhance event promotions and highlight new varieties of pumpkins, resulting in a 147 percent sales increase over the previous year.

For the Ludwigs, the buy local model not only means better returns for their business, it also reflects a commitment to their community—a commitment clearly shared by thousands of customers braving unprecedentedly bad weather to support Pumpkin Fest.

“Despite historical rain counts for the Comox Valley in 2016, we still managed to host more than 10,000 people during the month-long event and raise over $10,000 for Ronald McDonald House BC Charity,” Justine proudly reports.

Almost as astonishing, the main impetus credited by the couple for driving both in-store sales and on-farm visitors was the surprisingly simple display totes developed for their pumpkins at grocery stores, featuring the Coastal Black Pumpkin Fest logo along with a buy local identifier. According to Daniel Ludwig, these sparked the greatest consumer response.

“We had terrific feedback from people who came to our farm—the display totes either prompted them to purchase our pumpkins from the store or encouraged them to come to the farm in October for Pumpkin Fest…or both,” he explains.

And thanks to a combination of print, radio and online advertising, the Ludwigs were also able to secure a loyal following for their new Pumpkin Spice Honey, now a seasonal favorite in the community.

“This project was invaluable for giving us more brand recognition for the name Coastal Black in local stores,” says Justine. “We should see a continued sales growth at grocery stores and at our event in years to come.”

Good news not just for the third-generation family farm, but for many other families who will benefit from a stronger local economy and the Ludwig sense of community.

Funding: $9,266 provided by the BC Government. (BL247)

New BMP Means Bright Future for BC Berries

For blueberry growers in BC, there are few varieties that present as many opportunities as ‘Draper.’ Boasting superior size, texture, and flavour, this highbush blueberry represents one of the world’s most advanced cultivars and a significant source of revenue for the local industry.

Despite its potential, ‘Draper’ also carries a significant drawback known as Green Fruit Drop. Relating to a nutrient deficiency that causes green fruit to prematurely drop before harvest, this disorder can result in devastating yield losses (up to 40 percent in some fields), after nearly all input costs have already been invested.

Seeking a solution to this industry-wide issue, the BC Blueberry Council (BCBC), with the help of agricultural researcher Eric Gerbrandt, undertook a two-year project to develop and demonstrate best management practices to combat Green Fruit Drop.

According to Gerbrandt, the study builds on previous research that identified calcium deficiency as the underlying cause and foliar calcium applications as the potential solution.

“With this latest project we were able to pilot a spray management program that can virtually eliminate the condition and considerably increase ‘Draper’ yields,” says Gerbrandt, adding that without funding, growers would have continued to lose thousands of dollars in net profits per acre.

Having shared the good news with local growers, the BCBC is now focusing on research that investigates the genetic tendency for Green Fruit Drop in blueberries.

According to Gerbrandt, this will be increasingly important as novel genetics are developed using ‘Draper’ as a parent in blueberry breeding.

“In an increasingly competitive global market, the profitability of this industry depends upon the use of the world’s best genetics and most advanced horticultural management practices,” he explains.

While knowledge transfer is an ongoing task, the BCBC anticipates enhanced industry returns from ‘Draper’ based on results shared thus far.

“The economic benefit of this project in the first year alone will be substantial,” predicts Gerbrandt. “Even based on conservative estimates, near complete elimination of Green Fruit Drop has the potential to increase farm-gate revenue by $1.2-4.3 million in 2017!”

Funding: $38,475 provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN208)