Dutch Technology Helps BC Growers Pack a Better Pear

While proudly rooted in history and tradition, the sixth-generation Days family farm is looking forward to the future of tree fruit packing in the Okanagan.

After facing increasing requirements by retailers and regulators alike, Days Century Growers decided a “proactive investment” was needed, embarking on a project to expand the technological frontier for the local tree fruit sector.

After working with IAF to obtain funding through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, the Days were able to import and install a state-of-the-art packing line, box conveyor system and traceability program to enhance volume, efficiency and quality control at their Kelowna facility.

According to co-owner Kevin Day, the new packing line from Holland is specifically tailored to pears, offering unprecedented optical sorting technology within Canada.

“This is one of the most exciting projects ever undertaken on our farm…the Van Wamel Perfect Grader includes the first pear-specific high-resolution defect sorting system of its kind in Canada,” he reports, noting the grader not only scans and sorts the pears for all types of external defects but is equally efficient at sorting the many shapes of pear varieties and precisely measures weight, size and colour.

Having successfully completed a full harvest with the help of their new equipment, the Days are thrilled to find the new technology is significantly increasing efficiency and production with existing staff, as well as allowing them to partner with new growers to increase overall volume.

The new automated traceability system is similarly promising, with the ability to track fruit back to between six and eight trees within a block in each grower’s orchard. Thanks to the new database, a thorough profile of all fruit – including harvest date, location, harvester’s name and more – is just a few clicks away.

While the Days have been doing this manually for years, the new database is revolutionizing both efficiency and accuracy, even allowing them to trace forward to the end retail and consumer level using the barcodes on individual fruit.

“Thanks to government funding, we are now able to ensure a higher-quality pear is shipped from the Okanagan Valley throughout North America and potentially the world,” explains Kevin. “As retailers are asking for this type of technology, competitiveness in the marketplace will increase, resulting in an improved grower return for the industry and ultimately expanding the volume of pears grown in BC.”

Funding provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (INV097)

Buy BC Pork Promotion Raises Sales…and Spirits!

With nearly a century of corporate history, veteran pork processor Johnston Packers now serves more than 450 local retailers, butchers and restaurants from its family-run Chilliwack facility. But despite its sterling reputation, the Johnston team wanted to do more to satisfy the growing consumer craving for information, connection and community.

“It is increasingly important to reach consumers and share more about our farms and the BC pork industry as a whole,” explains assistant manager, Bonnie Windsor. “We wanted to educate consumers and chefs about our industry including our food safety regulations, and encourage them to support local butchers, grocers and retailers that carry BC pork products.”

Fortunately, their recent Buy BC initiative presented them with a unique opportunity to increase consumer awareness while fostering more collaboration across their sector.

With project funding to develop an assortment of marketing materials including videos, truck wraps, in-store promotions and nearly 20,000 recipe calendars, Johnston’s was able to support retailers in engaging shoppers and sharing the stories of local farms.

For Bonnie, the most effective outreach should elicit a laugh, like their new slogan: “You either like bacon…or you’re wrong,” or a truck wrap featuring an image of a chicken telling viewers to “eat more pork.”

“We often get feedback from consumers who see our trucks on the road and tell us how much they love them and find them funny and entertaining,” says Bonnie. “We feel we have been successful in drawing attention to BC pork with our humorous approach which has created a connection with the consumer.”

Now that brand recognition is on the rise, with sales climbing in both the fresh and value-added product categories, Johnston’s plans to capitalize on this momentum and leverage their new tools at consumer-facing food events, such as the annual Barn Burner BBQ in Yarrow.

“The Buy BC Program has enabled us to support our industry and enhance sustainability across the entire value chain of BC pork, from farmer to retailer to consumer,” Bonnie declares. “All of the activities completed in this project will continue to educate and promote BC pork, processors, retailers, and farmers for years to come.”

Funding support provided by the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program. (BBC123)

New BCfresh Brand Brings More BC Veggies to Canadians

While the Covid crisis has halted many industries in their tracks, Brian Faulkner from BCfresh is considering the silver lining in the latest curveball to hit agriculture.

Even as the BC-based grower-owned and -operated produce company anticipates inevitable client loss, Brian is focused on other opportunities, confident that even critical setbacks can “lead to renewal and innovation.”

If Brian’s reaction seems counter-intuitive, consider the approach of his latest market development efforts to bring BC veggies to more Canadians.

“Despite global recognition and respect for BC agriculture, we discovered that when it came to inter-provincial marketing, specific geographical branding didn’t necessarily offer a competitive advantage,” he explains.

So, using funding from the BC Agrifood and Seafood Market Development Program, they hired a consultant to develop a secondary brand that would appeal to the inter-provincial consumer base.

“Sometimes we’re able to sell more BC products to more provinces by highlighting features such as ‘Pacific’ or ‘Grown in the West’ and focusing more on our family farms, their stories and their commitment to good practices and sustainability,” reports Brian, adding that 100 percent of their farms are family farms.

Project funding also supported their exhibit at the Gordon Food Service Show in Edmonton, allowing them to expand their regional customer base and pursue a sales and marketing opportunity with a local Edmonton company.

“This was our first time participating in this event,” Brian says. “It was great having funding support to test it out and make sure it is worth the investment to continue attending future shows.”

While there were some unavoidable delays due to Covid, Brian is confident that all the pieces are in place even if the timeline for their national brand launch has shifted.

“We’ll probably launch at the Canadian Produce Marketing Association conference next spring, by then we’ll have our website, videos and other marketing materials…we’ve laid the groundwork to roll it out, we’ve just shifted everything back a bit.”

For Brian, government funding is critical to encouraging company growth, as is working with a delivery agent that helps facilitate funding opportunities.

“Our partnership with IAF has always been good, we’re a repeat client so we really appreciate recent efforts to streamline the application process and provide a pre-approval stage to expedite subsequent funding requests,” he says. “Opening a dedicated intake window also enhances the consultation experience as IAF staff can offer more focused attention on application inquiries.”

Funding support provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (MD082, MD205)

IAF Assists Agricultural First Response Efforts

With the needs of BC’s ag sector rapidly evolving in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, IAF has spent the last few months collaborating with our industry and government partners to address the most pressing priorities of our sector.

Connecting with customers during the advent of social distancing is just one of many novel dilemmas facing our industry. But thanks to provincial funding, we are delivering $550,000 through the new Buy BC E-Commerce Fund to help local agri-businesses enhance direct-to-consumer sales, from accessing or developing e-Commerce websites to marketing and shipping products to customers throughout BC.

The funding clearly couldn’t be timelier – faced with overwhelming industry response, project funding was fully subscribed within days of the application window opening in May. Given the incredible demand and undeniable need, the Government of BC committed an additional $250,000 to the original $300,000 fund!

Following the provincial uplift, we’re now supporting more than 100 e-Commerce projects representing beef, berry, tree fruit, poultry and honey producers across the province, as well as a variety of food and beverage processors.

“The response the program received during the first round of funding was exceptional, and we needed to expand it to help more farms and businesses establish or upgrade their e-presence to reach their customers,” says BC Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. “Expanding online has helped companies adjust their sales model during the pandemic, and I’m very appreciative our partnership with IAF let us provide that support quickly, and when it was needed by BC farmers and businesses the most.”

We’ve also been working with BC Food and Beverage (BCFB) to address the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) facing food processors as a result of COVID-19. While food safety-related PPE standards remain unchanged, the surge in global demand has translated into higher premiums and minimum order requirements that exclude many smaller-scale food processors in BC.

With federal-provincial funding administered by IAF, BCFB launched the Protecting Our People Program, allowing bulk PPE ordering to ensure producers and processors can access more competitively priced supplies.

“During COVID-19, BCFB has pivoted pretty dramatically to provide support in a different way,” explains BCFB CEO, James Donaldson. “We identified the need for industry to access PPE early on and are proud to have been able to launch the Protecting Our People Program with the support of IAF.”

As of last week, we’re also thrilled to launch two new federal programs designed to enhance domestic food safety and security!

In partnership with Western Economic Diversification Canada, IAF is delivering the new Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund to help BC fish and seafood processors address safety, capacity and market adaptability during the pandemic.

Similarly, the new Emergency Processing Fund supports food processors and greenhouse operators in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as they balance new health and safety protocols with maintaining domestic food supply.

While the pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges across all sectors, IAF chair Don Low, is optimistic about the collective efforts to restore order and accelerate recovery.

“Along with our industry and government partners, IAF immediately mobilized to help mitigate the risks unleashed by this crisis,” he says. “Thanks to substantial investments by our provincial and federal funders, we’re able to expand our program delivery role and quickly implement responsive new programming to support sector resilience in BC and beyond.”

Funding for the E-Commerce Fund provided by the BC Government’s Buy BC Partnership Program; funding for the Protecting Our People Program provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia; funding for the Canadian Seafood Stabilization Fund and the Emergency Processing Fund provided by the Government of Canada.

Bee Numbers Blossom on Kootenay Conservation Farm

In the increasingly complex landscape today’s pollinators must navigate, mounting pressures from food and habitat shortages continue to exact a sizeable toll on both domesticated honey bee and wild bee populations.

Fortunately, BC natural beekeepers like Kate and Ryan are doing their best to bolster bee numbers! Since 2017, the pollinator-loving pair has been propagating bee-friendly plants and foraging spaces at Elk Root Conservation Farm in the Slocan Valley. After carefully selecting and planting over 150 flower varieties (including many native plant species) and over 200 fruit and nut trees, they turned to the Bee BC Program to help them take the next step.

Thanks to project funding support, Elk Root is now home to a demonstration Bee Forage Orchard and Flower Meadow designed to enhance bee populations and health, while offering a model for fellow bee conservation enthusiasts.

According to Kate, the most recent challenge beekeeping in the Kootenays presents is seasonally limited natural nectar resources due to drier, hotter weather and extreme provincial wildfire conditions.

“This leaves insufficient means to naturally sustain our colonies, requiring us to supplement with nectar syrup substitutes,” Kate explains. “We have also been leaving the bees all the honey they produce from spring and summer foraging to ensure they have an adequate natural food supply over winter.”

But with an abundance of natural nectar sources now available in the newly established orchard, Kate is optimistic that increased honey store production is on the horizon.

“Thanks to Bee BC funding the orchard now includes thousands of additional nectar flowers blooming from early spring to late fall, many of which are not only edible but also boast medicinal benefits for bees like Echinacea and Chamomile,” she reports, adding that the unfenced land left open for roaming wildlife now offers a one-acre deer resistant wildflower and clover meadow as additional forage space.

While still in early stages, the results have been absolutely transformative – not only has Elk Root created a whole new ecosystem that attracts exponentially more honey bees, but Kate has observed a variety of wild pollinators also making the orchard and meadow “their personal forage oasis.”

And following their outreach and education efforts, Kate and Ryan are more than a little surprised to discover that Elk Root has evolved into a community hotline, fielding inquiries on all things bee-related!

When they’re not in the gardens or on the phone, the dynamic duo is facilitating the new not-for-profit Elk Root Conservation Farm Society to plan future tours. Kate hopes that by 2021 the new Society will be ready to open the demonstration orchard and apiary to public groups by appointment, once the gardens are more established.

“Ultimately, we hope to inspire others by creating a working model to demonstrate how our community can also select and plant beautiful nectar and pollen efficient gardens to optimize bee health and honey production,” says Kate.

To learn more about Elk Root’s conservation efforts visit: https://elkrootconservation.org/

Funding: $5,000 provided by the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE031)

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)