BC-Made Nutrient Management Tool Offers Dairy Farmers New Solution

With new waste regulations effective under the Agricultural Environmental Management Code of Practice, the need to navigate nutrient management alternatives has become a mobilizing force behind BC’s dairy industry.  

For farms producing more manure phosphorus than their crops require, a surplus of phosphorus in the soil becomes inevitable, leaving land application of dairy manure increasingly untenable.

According to Carla Soutar, Producer Services Manager with the BC Dairy Association, centrifuges offer a potential solution long sought by industry.

“By using high speeds to create centrifugal force, they separate solids from liquids, extracting phosphorus from dairy manure into a solid product which then becomes cheaper and easier to transport off the farm,” she explains.

But despite the potential benefits offered by centrifugal technology and its increasing use in European and US dairies, on-farm application in BC remains limited.

“One key barrier is that no centrifuge has ever been designed to address the size and needs of the BC dairy industry, which features uniquely small farms,” Soutar points out. “For the nearly 500 dairy farms in BC, the average herd size is 135 animals per farm, meaning there are only a handful of dairy farms large enough to conceivably purchase a full-size centrifuge.”

Determined to fill the gap and find a feasible nutrient management tool for BC dairy farmers, Valid Manufacturing approached IAF to explore funding opportunities. With support through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, Valid was able to undertake two projects that would allow them to design, manufacture and field-test a dewatering centrifuge tailored to the needs of BC’s dairy industry.

“Thanks to project funding we’ve developed a reliable, affordable, BC-made nutrient management option designed in close consultation with local producers,” reports Valid’s Corporate Development Lead, Chad Shipmaker, adding that additional funding for on-farm testing and field demonstration was essential for moving the centrifuge closer to market.

According to Shipmaker, the new centrifuge can process raw manure, which avoids the need (and costs) for additional de-watering technologies. While additional testing is planned for 2020, results so far have achieved phosphorous extraction ranging from 40-60 percent during on-farm trials!

“We’re excited to pilot technology to help facilitate enhanced environmental sustainability for BC’s dairy industry,” he says. “Not only can a centrifuge help dairy farmers reduce excess soil phosphorus levels and conform with nutrient management regulations, but it could also enable dairy farmers to increase their herd size without having to purchase or rent additional land.”

Considering the substantial and increasingly timely benefits the centrifuge offers, many in the dairy industry are eagerly awaiting its release.

“While steps towards technology adoption are still underway, this is exactly the type of work the province’s dairy sector supports,” says Soutar. “The BC Dairy Association is always looking at ways to ensure dairy farming delivers a positive impact on our community.”

Funding: $354,000 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INV029AE, INV063)

Getting Students Through The Farm Gate

A taste of something special awaits shoppers at the UBC Farm’s weekly farmer’s market. In addition to a diversity of local foods at your fingertips, you can also uncover your local food economy firsthand; on any given visit, customers can tour the campus’ working farm, meet farmers-in-training, learn about indigenous food sovereignty, and explore on-site innovative agricultural research.

“The UBC Farm Farmers’ Markets are part of the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, a unique research, teaching and community engagement centre,” explains sales manager Matthew Delumpa. “We view the market as a venue to inspire, educate and nourish consumers while supporting the health and competitiveness of BC’s sustainable ag sectors.”

Offering local, farm-fresh seasonal produce and eggs from the UBC Farm and other local farms, as well as local meat, baked goods and prepared foods from Lower Mainland producers and processors, there are nearly 60 different local vendors participating in the market each year. And for those seeking a festival experience, the Saturday market also offers food trucks, alcohol and crafts, while local musicians entertain the crowd.

But despite a bounty of appealing options, one element was curiously absent considering the market’s location within a school – students!

According to Matthew, while the market commands a loyal following from the surrounding community, on-campus awareness among the student population has been surprisingly but consistently low (at least outside of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems).

“This was the main gap that we identified, where we have students just down the road that have no idea they have a farm in their backyard,” he says. “We also wanted to promote the new discount available through the Alma Mater student society’s coupon program to help students access fresh, local food.”

But with help from the Buy BC program the UBC Farm was ready to give it the old college try. With project funding to support a dedicated project coordinator and marketing specialist, they launched a targeted campaign to increase student recognition and drive on-campus visitors and sales.

“Our two posters reached students in 443 campus locations, promoted Facebook posts reached 1,440 people over 19 days, six digital signs appeared on more than 50 campus screens and our 5,000-subscriber newsletter has seen an increased unique click-rate since publishing the redesigned template,” reports Matthew.

So far this has translated into a 20 percent increase in market customers (including a 50 percent increase in customers identifying as Millennials/UBC students).

“Our recent promotional efforts have increased on-campus exposure and as a result our sales figures have risen and the UBC Farm produce subsidy is used widely, 1,845 times to be exact,” shares Matthew, adding that their farmers’ market team has received numerous student testimonials noting that they heard about the UBC Farm produce subsidy through Buy BC communication material.

And with the significant turnover every new semester brings, the UBC Farm team is especially grateful to have all the marketing tools in place to attract new arrivals each time.

For those graduating or leaving campus, Matthew is hopeful the buy local message continues to hit home.

“Beyond the immediate impacts to the market, we believe that the increased promotional effort supported by Buy BC will lead to positive changes in purchasing behavior and attitudes towards the local food economy,” he says.

Funding: $9,035 through the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC021)

Taking Action On Climate Change

With climate change front and centre on the international stage, communities across the globe are rallying to address one of the most pressing issues of our time – protecting the future of our planet. But for farmers already dealing with climate impacts, solutions are needed now.

Fortunately, BC farmers are not facing these challenges alone. IAF is proud to partner with the BC Agricultural Research and Development Corporation to support the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative (CAI). With funding from the federal and provincial governments through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, CAI delivers two programs designed to help industry adapt and respond to the climate crisis.

While the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program delivers funding for farm-level applied research projects to help mitigate climate change impacts, the Regional Adaptation Program (RAP) unites producers, agricultural organizations and governments to identify priority impacts and strategies and to implement adaptation measures on a broader scale.

“The ability of producers to adapt to climate change is often linked to physical infrastructure, informational tools and resources, and decision-making processes that are beyond the individual farm level,” says CAI director Emily MacNair.

Under RAP, each region’s plan reflects the climate change impacts specific to that area, as well as the adaptive capacity, challenges and opportunities facing that region’s agriculture.

According to Emily, collaboration is a key indicator of their success and has served as a guiding principle since the CAI was formed in 2008.

“This foundational work of cultivating partnerships across sectors and all levels of government has uniquely positioned the BC agriculture industry to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”

Thanks to the combined efforts behind RAP, the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George plan was recently completed, allowing the regional advisory committee to begin implementation of high-priority projects. The plan identifies four priority challenges affecting the region, including increasing wildfire risk, increasing variability and changing crop suitability, warmer and drier summer conditions, and changing pest dynamics.

First up is a project to compile and share relevant resources about agricultural water management to encourage best practices. Given the increasing water demands resulting from shifting summer conditions, the project couldn’t be timelier for local producers.

“The project’s focus is to promote knowledge transfer and provide resources about water conservation and efficiency measures that are straightforward and cost-effective,” says Emily, adding that producers will also have the opportunity to discuss their specific operation or water management challenges with subject matter experts.

Between 2013 and 2018, six regional adaptation plans and 41 regional projects were completed under the RAP, with more than 400 individuals participating in the planning processes.

Each milestone achieved reflects a prodigious strength in numbers, as CAI relies on the input and support from a number of different partners to keep everything running smoothly. In addition to offering strategic advice as a CAI committee member, IAF is pleased to ensure that administrative processes work seamlessly behind the scenes – this means managing project contracts and payments, maintaining records management systems and service standards, and program reporting to keep our government funders informed of the impacts of their investments.

“We’re thankful IAF fulfills this vital role so we can focus our efforts on cultivating key partnerships, managing projects and sharing results,” says Emily. “They do a great job of effective and efficient program administration.”

Funding for the BC Agriculture & Food Climate Action Initiative is provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. Funding is administered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC and the BC Agricultural Research & Development Corporation.

West Kootenay Schools Abuzz With Observation Hives

The Bee Awareness Society is thrilled to offer a “live learning tool” to local schools in the West Kootenays. Using observation bee hives, the Society teaches students about the vital role that honeybees and other pollinators play in food production.

“There are fewer honeybees, bee species and other pollinators available for pollination,” project coordinator Linda Martin explains. “We knew we needed to expand our education and outreach efforts.”

With funding through the Bee BC Program to conduct their Bee Awareness School Education project, the Society teamed up with the Mount Sentinel Secondary Woodworking Shop to build ten glass observation bee hives which will now be used to provide the learning module at new schools.

According to Linda, she could not have asked for more willing volunteers.

“Our project was very successful, the students of Mount Sentinel woodworking shop were very knowledgeable, eager and hard working to complete the construction and finishing of the bee hives,” she reports.

To date the Society has educated approximately 2,000 children about the plight of the honeybees and other pollinators, including what children and their families can do in their own backyards and community to mitigate the risks posed towards pollinators.

While there tends to be tremendous enthusiasm and support within the community, Linda is grateful that provincial funding has allowed them to enhance their outreach efforts.

“Initiatives like the Bee BC Program are instrumental for helping us co-create a healthy and sustainable environment for bees, other pollinators and mankind,” she asserts.

Funding: $5,000 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE017)

Sound Technology Reaches New Pitch For BC Pests

With damage to vineyards and tree fruits estimated at over four million annually, growers in the Okanagan-Similkameen have long sought a solution to the problem of starlings. While many different methods and devices exist to repel these and other agricultural pests, finding a consistently effective tool has remained an elusive goal.

According to Sadashi Domitsu, general manager of FCOM Services, the challenge lies in the natural learning capabilities of birds and other animals which ultimately allows them to become accustomed to each deterrent.

“Birds and animals are sensitive to small sounds with significantly quicker response times to that of humans,” Sadashi explains. “Because currently used sound repelling methods are only felt by animals at a speed equivalent to slow-motion, they can easily adapt.”

A company in Japan, however, has found a way to level the playing field by throwing a few curveballs.

“Fractal impulse is a new system that uses sound shockwaves specific to animals so that they can’t acclimate to the sound or return to the area,” says Sadashi.

Developed by KEYON Company, the fractal impulse method relies on a computer program that produces irregular, high-speed pulses directed towards pests, using a different high-speed pulse each time to maintain a constant state of surprise.   

After researching the results from Japanese farm installations, Sadashi undertook a project with funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program to test if the new technology was similarly effective at repelling BC species.

Using Harper’s Trail Vineyard in Kamloops as a test site, they installed six devices just before bird season and cameras to monitor bird movement. By the end of the season, they were excited to discover that unlike in previous years, starling sightings were minimal and only one vine had been damaged.

According to the vineyard owner, noise complaints from neighbours have also significantly reduced from previous seasons that relied solely on propane cannons.  

While still in the early stages of testing, Sadashi is hopeful the technology will finally provide a reliable solution across multiple sectors.

“We’re eager to provide the BC industry with a less invasive, alternative method to deter agricultural pests,” he says. “Ideally we’d like to also explore whether sound technology can help minimize cattle predation, which we know has been a growing problem for cattle ranchers in BC.”

Funding: $8,756 provided through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership under the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program. (INV035 AE SP)

Buy BC Helps Local Company Harness Flour Power

Anita’s Organic Mill is out to inspire and connect British Columbians through the love of baking. And thanks to their recent Buy BC project, the Chilliwack company has not only successfully launched their newest service, Anita’s Bake Club, but has also introduced their new line of gluten-free products into the local market.

An artisan-quality and certified organic and kosher mill, Anita’s produces white, whole grain and sprouted flours, cereals and mixes sourced directly from local farmers in Armstrong and Creston.

With the addition of their new bake club (an online membership-based model designed to educate and connect baking enthusiasts) as well as new marketing materials including recipes, baking guides and videos, Anita’s has seen a sizeable uptake in consumer engagement, awareness and sales.

According to vice-president Jayda Smith, brand recognition has grown steadily month over month, with their social media presence and number of followers similarly expanding.

“Anita’s Bake Club was particularly successful with more than 1,500 new members registered through our website,” she reports. “These signups allow us to engage directly with customers creating meaningful connections, brand loyalty and enhanced revenue.”

By the end of the project Anita’s sales were up 36 percent and their new line of gluten-free products launched in 100 local stores.

The company is now focused on expanding their reach within natural channels across Canada and will be opening a bakery in their new Chilliwack facility this fall.

For Jayda, having support to more actively engage local consumers and promote their products as ‘made in BC’ has offered a measurable competitive advantage against imports.

“These results could not have been achieved without the funding of this project,” she declares. “We now have the tools in place to continue increasing BC consumer preference for our brand, further supporting our local farmers and strengthening the BC food processing industry.”

Funding: $38,663 through the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC036)

The Pest Is History

Persistent greenhouse pests will soon be a thing of the past if Menno Koehoorn has his way. The CEO of TechMist Spray Solutions has been working for the past eight years developing Sparc™, an unparalleled agricultural disinfection solution to an age-old problem.

“This new patented technology can reduce the overall greenhouse chemical footprint,” promises Menno. “Sparc™ provides a pesticide-free alternative to controlling insects and pathogens with a zero-residue disinfection solution that is completely safe for greenhouse workers.”

Sparc™ is typically pumped into greenhouses through the carbon dioxide distribution system and then disbursed with circulation fans, causing swift cell failure in surrounding pathogens. Once the treatment is complete, the Sparc™ particle cloud reduces to simple organic molecules.

“It can be done at night with no down time and workers can continue during the day to prepare the facility for the next crop,” Menno explains. “Pathogen control costs are minimized if not eliminated, crop yields are maximized, and pesticides are not required at the time of greenhouse cleanout.”

After previous Agri-Innovation projects helped validate Sparc™ efficacy for pest management, Menno launched a subsequent study to develop and test enhancements such as remote sensing technology and data analysis software, both necessary features for accessing broader market opportunities. With funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the upgrades were successfully completed and the TechMist team can now monitor global installations at their Abbotsford headquarters.

With improvements to the Canary™, an environmental sensing device and database, growers can measure pathogen reduction rates after each treatment, adjust dosage levels if necessary, and track crop health and performance year-over-year.

“One of our greatest challenges was determining thresholds of effective Sparc™ treatments relative to environmental conditions,” Menno recalls. “We’re now able to better isolate unique environmental factors to enhance each cycle while recording data to ensure treatment consistency and facilitate research.”

So far studies on Sparc™-treated greenhouses have confirmed a sizeable return on investment for farmers (even the same day), and yields increasing from a 15 percent loss to almost non-existent losses in the first year of treatment.

Pepper Weevil pressure, for instance, was eliminated for eight months following a  Sparc™ treatment, while other persistent greenhouse pathogens face similar eradication, sometimes for years.

“Last year we eliminated Green Mottle Mosaic Virus from cucumbers that showed up in every crop for roughly 30 years prior to Sparc™ treatment,” Menno recalls, adding that this year the same grower has experienced none for four crops.

Another cucumber house is now rid of Thrips during the early growing period, yielding an increase of eight cucumbers per plant in the first few weeks alone.

“Our treatment is measurable, you can see if you’ve achieved your target after each cycle so there is no more guessing,” says Menno, adding that operators can even potentially attain organic certification with exclusive use of Sparc™. 

Having achieved commercialization, TechMist has been able to forge new partnerships and is teaming with BW Global Greenhouses, Ecoation Innovative Solutions and other strategic partners to enter the market. 

For more information visit www.techmist.com/

Funding: $169,210 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INV043)

Opinions expressed in this document are those of the author and not necessarily those of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada or the BC Ministry of Agriculture. The Government of Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture and their directors, agents, employees or contractors will not be liable for any claims, damages, or losses of any kind whatsoever arising out of the use of, or reliance upon, this information.

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)

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)

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