Cook Poultry Like A Pro Campaign Heats Up

When appealing to millennial shoppers, you better have an irresistible message ready to share across multiple online channels. Though an increasing number of British Columbian consumers of all ages have rallied behind the “Buy BC” hashtag, millennials present a unique, almost paradoxical challenge when it comes to food, as Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry (FVSP) discovered firsthand.

When the fifth-generation family farm delved into millennial trends, they found that while consumers under 35 spend significantly less time cooking than other generations, they are surprisingly some of the healthiest eaters as well as the inventors of food trends like the “farm-to-table” movement.

“These are potential customers who like the convenience of eating out but value the healthy aspect of home cooking and are deeply curious about every aspect of their meals,” summarizes FVSP president Ken Falk, adding that many younger shoppers have also expressed insecurity about preparing fresh poultry products themselves.

The fact that millennials also represent the heaviest users of modern technology and mostly glean product information online presented another obstacle for FVSP, given their more traditional marketing approach.

But fortunately for the Falks, funding support was available through the Buy BC Partnership Program to help enhance their local marketing efforts. Project funding allowed them to pursue the elusive millennial demographic by launching the “Cook Poultry Like A Pro!” initiative, an online campaign promoting BC poultry while offering consumers a unique educational opportunity.

With the help of a professional marketing firm and five local chefs, FVSP produced a video series featuring simple chicken, duck, goose and squab recipes on their new Buy BC landing page and social media platforms, as well as online contests where participants voted for their favorite recipes and posted their own creations. Eight highly influential food bloggers were also enlisted to create and share additional online content with tens of thousands of followers, 90 percent of whom are millennials.  

Project funding also enabled FVSP to broadcast their message on CTV (reaching more than 800,000 viewers daily), as well as conduct in-store demonstrations, distribute recipe cards, and develop Buy BC-branded marketing and promotional materials. By the end of their six-month project they had significantly increased sales revenue and formed agreements with 12 new restaurants and 20 new retailers.

“Having support to extend our online reach and elevate our brand was the key to connecting with this particular demographic and expanding our business,” explains Falk. “This is the generation whose current concerns and desires will guide the future of the food industry.”

Funding: $44,757 through the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC032)

Simplifying Organic Certification

An innovative, province-wide online tool is now available for producers seeking organic certification! Thanks to a project led by the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC), the once onerous application process has been radically streamlined to save operators time, paperwork and money.

According to Jen Gamble, executive director of the COABC, the online system fills two sizable gaps for the province’s organic sector.

“Previously there were no certification bodies in BC that offered a live online application process,” explains Gamble, adding that the information captured will also populate a database to supply better statistics, another first in BC.

While data on the organic sector is in high demand, it is difficult to access and has never been consistent or reliable.

“Now with accurate numbers we are better positioned to identify gaps and predict potential areas for growth,” anticipates Gamble. “We are already seeing the capability of the system to provide concrete information in the long term.”

And with BC’s mandatory organic regulation taking effect, the project proved especially timely for the many producers and processors now required to verify their products have accredited organic certification.

For the COABC, ensuring that the increasing numbers of transitional organic operators can access a supportive and user-friendly platform was a top priority, especially given the unfamiliarity and discomfort many farmers feel with online navigation.

To address the technology challenge and ease the transition, the COABC developed user guides and supplementary how-to videos to assist new entrants and have also trained their own staff to offer tech support via phone and email. And to ensure users without access to internet or computers are not excluded, certifying bodies will continue to offer a non-digital alternative until applicants are familiar with the new tool. (For those who simply need to renew their certification, Gamble promises the initial data recorded will re-populate in subsequent years to considerably expedite the renewal process.)

So far feedback from stakeholders across the sector has been largely positive, and the COABC continues to offer training sessions when necessary to ensure a smooth transition for those coming onboard.

In addition to simplifying the application process and enhancing data collection, Gamble is delighted to see numerous other benefits unfolding because of the project, including increased collaboration and communication within the sector and a clearer understanding of the role and benefits the COABC brings to the sector.  

“As we shift into a high-tech future, tools like this are vital to the success and sustainability of the organic sector, and we are confident the system will see widespread adoption and sustained use,” she predicts.

Funding: $117,568 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (A0818)

TKS Rubber Bounces Back

Vital to all economies and infinitely useful, natural rubber boasts a backstory far more compelling than its pragmatic nature suggests. Discovered in the 1930s in Central Asia, Taraxacum kok-saghyz (TKS) became an important industrial rubber-producing plant, also known as “Russian dandelion.” When cost- effective rubber supplies from Southeast Asia were cut off by the Japanese invasion during World War II, Canadian production of TKS proved indispensable for meeting both medical and military needs during the critical embargo.

While TKS fell into disuse when Hevea rubber became available again after the war, an interest in reviving local production has resurfaced in recent years, fueled by rising rubber costs and latex allergies. One company in Surrey saw an unparalleled opportunity for British Columbia farmers.

After researching the growing conditions and market demand for natural rubber, Nova-BioRubber Green Technologies undertook a series of trials for producing and processing TKS at a commercial scale on several BC farms, in both greenhouses and raised beds.

“TKS offers the potential for a new summer and winter cash crop for BC farms, particularly those that are underutilized and unprofitable,” explains Nova-BioRubber founder Dr. Anvar Buranov, adding that thousands of new jobs in both primary production and processing are anticipated as a result.  

After completing a three-year project funded by the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, Dr. Buranov and his team have successfully demonstrated that TKS can be grown annually in BC, with crop values of up to $16,000 per hectare!

“Agricultural practices can also be completely mechanized to decrease growing costs,” promises Dr. Buranov, estimating about $100 per acre.

With their new green processing facility, Nova-BioRubber can accommodate an annual production of 100 tons of rubber and 100 tons of inulin, the main TKS by-product that offers a valuable dietary fiber to the food processing and pharmaceutical industries.

And with the price of rubber continuously increasing over the past 20 years, many industries have displayed a heightened interest in alternative sources of natural rubber. While scientists have studied alternatives like Guayule, its product has never reached the market due to its low rubber content, difficult extraction process and three-year growth cycle.

TKS by contrast, offers a steady supply with reliably high rubber and inulin contents (24 and 40 percent respectively), and only takes four months to grow in BC’s climate. Thanks to the harvesting and processing technologies developed by Nova Bio-Rubber, the extraction process is green, simple and affordable.

“Compared to previous methods, our technology offers close to a 50 percent reduction in energy consumption, 80 percent reduction in labour, 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 90 percent reduction in water consumption and 100 percent reduction in toxic chemical consumption,” reports Dr. Buranov, noting that processing time is also 600 percent faster and costs approximately $1 per kilogram of rubber, lower than any known technology.

A TKS production guide is now available to growers in the Lower Mainland and Northwest Coast, featuring climate-specific best practices.

With roughly three million hectares of marginal lands available in BC, Dr. Buranov is confident farmers can meet the growing demand for natural rubber without compromising local food production.

“This may even provide a new industry in rural areas of BC,” he adds hopefully.

Funding: $295,000 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INN239)

New Ag Plan Offers Reason To Hope

When the Hope Food Collective undertook a Community Food Security Assessment in 2016, there was a clear and consistent message from residents seeking more local options with more control over the source and quality of their food.

Unfortunately, with its surplus of under-utilized agricultural land and lack of supportive policies, the District of Hope had a long way to go to meet these expectations. So, with the help of IAF’s Agricultural Area Planning Program, the District formed an Agricultural Advisory Committee and began the process to strengthen and promote its local food system.

And with recent endorsement by City Council, the new Hope Food and Agriculture Plan now offers a ten-to 15-year blueprint for guiding the long-term development of agri-food systems in Hope!

According to project manager Brittany Ekelund, the plan reflects extensive consultation and presents a shared vision to support both new and existing agri-businesses and enhance food security for everyone.

“The plan is a long-range strategy for increasing the use of agricultural land for farming as well as establishing and scaling-up the local food and agriculture value chain,” says Ekelund. “The plan takes a food system approach and considers all aspects of the value chain from production, processing and direct-sales to celebration and food recovery.”

Priorities captured in the ambitious new plan include maintaining Agricultural Land Reserve boundaries and discouraging subdivision, expanding processing infrastructure, establishing a regional food hub, encouraging ecologically responsible agriculture practices and creating a branding strategy for Hope food and agriculture.

The regional branding initiative is already underway, offering logos and other marketing materials to government, business and education sectors. With access to new tools, Hope producers and processors can more easily tap into larger regional markets, fulfilling another key priority identified during consultations.

“During the 2016 assessment, local producers expressed a need for a consistent, viable market for their products, so we really wanted our plan to offer specific avenues for improving marketing opportunities,” explains Ekelund, adding that they are also focused on creating a more supportive and inclusive farmers’ market.

For Ekelund, increasing collaboration, communication and educational opportunities is the most important path forward in building a strong and sustainable industry, especially when it comes to recruiting new talent to the local ag sector.

“Hope offers an appealing option for innovative, young or new agriculturalists interested in small-scale agriculture,” she says. They can take advantage of our current low cost of agricultural land relative to the Lower Mainland, location for easy distribution and excellent water quality and soil health.”

And for added incentive, the District hopes to host a workshop series for farmers, processors and artisans to learn practical business skills and is also exploring ways to help producers navigate government regulations and permitting requirements to responsibly grow their operations.

“We’re trying to build a network of farmers that can work together to support each other, pool resources, develop products and expand market share for the benefit of the entire community,” Ekelund emphasizes.

Funding: $13,000 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (B0016.47)

Digging Up The Dirt on Cranberry Field Decline

When it comes to climate, soil conditions and production systems, BC’s cranberry beds are unique compared to other growing regions. Unfortunately, this means that many of the challenges producers face are similarly distinct, sometimes posing unprecedented dilemmas that elude existing resources.

So, when several fields across BC were struck by “Cranberry Field Decline” (CFD), where patches of vines can no longer produce crops and eventually die, there were no tools available to identify at-risk fields, recommendations for prevention, or treatment options for affected fields suffering the devastating impacts on productivity.

And while it became clear that incidents of CFD were increasing, the cases still appeared random with no obvious reason or pattern to the outbreaks observed in different beds. 

“There are fields where one exhibits extreme CFD symptoms while adjacent fields show no indication of symptoms whatsoever,” says Jack Brown, chair of the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission. “There was no apparent cause, so we couldn’t formulate a solution.”

With funding from the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Growing Forward 2 Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the Commission undertook a three-year project to find answers that would not only enable them to deal with CFD, but to also gain a deeper understanding of BC’s unique production system.

Researchers began by mapping the distribution of CFD over the past ten years in BC cranberry beds and conducting field trials on six local farms. After extensively analyzing the physiological plant and soil characteristics associated with the symptoms, they were able to identify one possible cause and develop diagnostic tools and potential management strategies to prevent, manage and treat CFD.

According to the findings, the root of the problem may have been the roots themselves.

“It appears the primary culprit behind the disorder may be poor root health or ‘low rooting capacity,’” Jack explains. “As a result, plants became deficient in water and nutrients which reduced photosynthesis and carbohydrate reserves, weakening their structural integrity and causing canopy collapse.”

Initial recommendations to growers include monitoring the cranberry canopy for balanced root and shoot development and implementing management practices like sanding and/or pruning to maintain a desirable canopy architecture and rooting capacity. Researchers also developed the “Pull-Test” which provides growers with a tool to detect reduced rooting capacity and assess mature fields for their risk levels of developing CFD.

The project team also found that utilizing aerial imagery may offer growers another diagnostic tool for early detection of CFD, prior to the symptoms visually manifesting in the field.

In addition to yielding information for managing this formerly mysterious disease, Jack credits the study for contributing to broader, long-term industry benefits.

 “This project represents one of the most comprehensive physiological assessments of cranberries in BC to date,” he asserts. “We now possess valuable information that will not only help address the challenges of CFD, but will also improve cranberry production practices in general.”

Funding: $28,451 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative (INN235); and $7,790 through former federal adaptation funding.

Spreading the Word on Japanese Beetle

When the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) discovered Japanese beetle (Popillia japonica) in Vancouver, the potential for economic and environmental damage posed by the invasive pest demanded a response.  As this pest affects as many as 300 plant species including roses, berries, tree fruits and grapes, consequences of the beetle becoming widespread could lead to significant agricultural and landscape losses.

“Japanese beetle is one of the most devastating pests,” explains Hedy Dyck, Chief Operating Officer of the BC Landscape and Nursery Association (BCLNA). “And keeping it out of BC is crucial to continuing to support plant and pollinator health.”

According to the BCLNA’s research, agricultural producers could face numerous economic impacts if Japanese beetle were to become widespread, with significant losses in the organic sector in particular. In total, a recent economic impact study conducted by Roslyn Kunin & Associates identified potential damage and crop loss in BC could amount to $25 million annually.

With this potential impact, several agencies agreed to collaborate on a response effort.  Once an eradication strategy to help prevent the spread of the pest was approved, a coordinated effort was implemented which included the CFIA, BC Ministry of Agriculture, City of Vancouver, the Invasive Species Council of BC, the BCLNA and other stakeholders.

IAF expedited the application process to help BCLNA obtain funding through the Small Projects Program. This allowed BCLNA to hit the ground running in its efforts to engage stakeholders and launch a targeted awareness and outreach campaign to educate the industry on the new regulated areas and policies.

“This project allowed us to quickly and effectively communicate the issues and requirements regarding the infestation, including where the regulated area was, the new movement controls that were put in place and treatment plans, to the landscape industry, strata and commercial managers and owners, as well as the ag-hort sector,” says Hedy.

In addition to holding technical briefings and information sessions for growers, retailers and landscapers, the BCLNA also offered ongoing updates on eradication efforts through a dedicated webpage, weekly e-blasts and social media posts, and distributed more than 750 informational packages to local landscapers on the infestation, regulatory actions, treatment plans, temporary transfer station, and more to help prevent the spread of this pest by restricting the movement of plants and soil out of the regulated area.

As a result of the project, and the efforts of the City of Vancouver to set up a temporary transfer station for landscapers and residents to use, the industry immediately modified the disposal of green waste, and growers and retailers began educating customers and refusing returns from the Metro Vancouver area to stop the potential movement of potentially infected plant materials into the Valley.

While the BCLNA informed these sectors of the regulated area and eradication efforts, the Invasive Species Council of BC approached consumers directly with a strong message of environmental stewardship to help stop the spread of this invasive pest.

“Having the Invasive Species Council of BC provide public information on this issue helped people understand that involved stakeholders had agreed that eradication and treatment was the right thing to do and to get the public’s support in this effort as well,” explains Hedy.

For Hedy, this kind of collaboration was key in the project’s success, allowing a far more effective joint effort not only with communication but to also create processes such as a temporary transfer station and strategies to prevent the spread of the pest.  

“Funding for this project helped implement measures to prevent the spread from happening by enabling a swift response to a critical situation and equipped industry with resources to make procedural changes – the work, organization and collaboration of this project will serve as a model for future crises.”

Eradication efforts will continue in 2019 as the BCLNA continues to work with stakeholders to enhance the prevention efforts established in 2017 and 2018.

Funding: $17,460 through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund (A0876 SP, A0879 SP)