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)

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)