Meadow Restoration Helps Enhance Forage For Victoria Bees

While managed honey bees play an undeniably valuable role within agriculture, native bees are often the unsung heroes of pollination and food production – not only do they increase yield and offer valuable back-up to sole reliance on honey bees, they are also better pollinators of many crops and essential for natural ecosystem function.

In return, these pollination powerhouses rely on nutritious and diverse forage, the decline of which has resulted in poor honey bee health and reduced native bee populations.

While establishing pollinator habitat around farm operations can help increase bee resistance to parasites, disease and the effects of pesticide exposure, there is poor uptake in most farm landscapes due to a lack of local research and best management practices.

With funding through the Bee BC Program, Pollinator Partnership Canada (P2C) introduced the Blenkinsop Meadow Restoration Project to enhance wild bee habitat and forage in Victoria, while providing a model for future pollinator restoration projects.

In collaboration with partners like the Peninsula Streams Society, Saanich Native Plants Nursery and local secondary schools, P2C planted a half-acre native plant pollinator meadow in a highly visible urban/agricultural area, and continues to monitor pollinator activity and collect data to inform best management practices.

According to project coordinator Dr. Lora Morandin, creating awareness and recruiting volunteers from the local community and schools was essential to the project’s success, resulting in more than 50 community members planting over 2,000 native plants and seeds, and more than 40 students assisting with planting, maintenance and pollinator monitoring.

Workshops were also developed to educate students on issues regarding native bee and honey bee health, the importance of pollinators, and bee identification and monitoring including a citizen science technique used to track bee abundance and diversity. Alongside the project team, select students also participated in monthly observations to gather pre-restoration baseline data on the existing pollinator community at the site.

While the project is still in early stages in terms of measurable results on bee population and ecosystem enhancement, it has already seen tremendous success with community engagement, best management practice development, number of plants planted, and area restored for native and managed pollinators. The benefits to surrounding agriculture and urban gardens are anticipated to unfold shortly.

Given public support to date, Dr. Morandin is confident the project will continue to yield long-term benefits and generate further community engagement.

“The meadow will continue to serve as a demonstration site to highlight the benefits of habitat and provide information to land managers, the community and growers on how to establish habitat and support healthy managed and native bee populations,” she says, adding that continual monitoring and data collection of plant-pollinator networks will help inform best management practices for the region.

Additional next steps involve the project team designing interpretive signage, as well as installing a central pathway with benches and split-rail fencing.

“As the naturalized meadow matures and the signage, pathways, and benches are incorporated, it will provide a real opportunity for the community and beyond to become educated and aware about native pollinators and their importance to both ecosystem and agricultural health,” Dr. Morandin predicts. “This meadow showcases the possibility of transforming marginal, corporate or public land into a thriving habitat for pollinators and other wildlife.”

Funding: $5,000 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE001)

US Tradeshow Opens Doors for BC Cherries

We recently caught up with Sutherland S.A. Produce on the heels of their 2019 trade mission to the US. Thanks to Market Development funding under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, the Kelowna-based grower and packer just completed a successful circuit of the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit (PMA) in Anaheim, California.

For director of sales Rick Chong, the PMA offers the perfect venue for promoting BC tree fruits and berries on behalf of the nearly 200 growers Sutherland represents.

“It’s one of our biggest tradeshows with 40-50 thousand attendees, including important buyers and all the major growers in North America,” he explains. “It offers a significant networking opportunity while helping you keep costs down by meeting everyone in one place.”

Not only did the PMA enable Sutherland to enter negotiations with Wal-Mart, but it also encouraged an existing partnership that is helping to open new markets for BC cherry growers.

According to Rick, California-based Blanc Vineyards recently won the exclusive NBA world-wide marketing rights for fresh grapes and cherries, the latter to be provided by Sutherland!

“This will allow us to package and market BC cherries with the NBA label,” he explains. “Not only would BC cherries get sold across the US, but the NBA also has a four-billion-dollar market in China and large markets in Europe, Taiwan and Hong Kong.”

While the US is typically one of Sutherland’s smallest export markets, Rick believes the inroads they’ve made this year will mean significantly more opportunities for BC growers.

With several previous government-funded export initiatives under their belt, the entire Sutherland team understands how critical support is for increasing Canadian brand recognition around the globe.

“The project funding we have received has been an immense contribution to our business development in export markets – we could not afford to attend many of these shows and pursue these opportunities without some financial assistance,” says Rick.

Funding support provided through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership. (MD019)

Nanaimo Students Discover The Bees Needs

It’s been a busy summer for Morgan Creek Farm as they embarked on their bee education and planting project! Together with local students, the Nanaimo family farm has transformed a previously sparse pasture into a thriving habitat for pollinators.  

For farm owner Aaron Grant, the project began as a way to teach local residents about “the needs of bees.” With funding through the provincial government’s Bee BC Program, Aaron began the community outreach initiative with his own hives in tow, taking them to summer camps, schools, festivals and markets.

“I took bees to show and explain to people about why bees are important for us and how individuals can make a contribution by planting pollinator-friendly plants,” explains Aaron.

After completing the educational component of the project, five classes of elementary school students visited Morgan Creek Farm to construct and plant “bee gardens” in areas with low plant diversity and soil quality. Prior to their arrival, Aaron and several volunteers prepared the soil, built water catching swales, installed fencing and watering equipment, and applied manure, fertilizer and mulch in preparation for the winter. As a result, the area is now a productive and diverse bee habitat that blooms throughout the seasons!

“The live bees were a great way to demonstrate how special bees are and allowed me to create a connection with people about how to help them,” Aaron recalls.  “The planting project was amazing with hundreds of plants planted in a very short time, I was so impressed with how seriously the students took their job.”

While Nanaimo is not considered the most hospitable region for pollinators, with habitat often limited to weedy patches of broom and blackberries along fence lines, local bees will soon have a place to call home as the new gardens will offer a more stable and diverse source of food and shelter.

Beyond the success of the gardens, Aaron is confident that something even more transformative has taken root.   

“By engaging students in the project, we have created ambassadors for the ongoing health of bees,” he predicts. “The students were excited to help do something concrete and inspired to consider their own households as potential pollinator habitats.”

Funding: $4,665 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE015)

Student Outreach Initiative Builds Urban Bee Habitat

There are close to 3,000 farms and hundreds of community gardens in Metro Vancouver that rely on native bees for food crop yield and quality. But with native bee populations declining across North America, Metro Vancouver is at risk of becoming one of many communities to face the challenge of sustaining local food production in the future.

To make matters worse, public awareness of the role of native bees in crop pollination and climate adaptation is low, as are strategies to bolster native bee numbers. While not all factors contributing to the decline are understood, conserving biodiversity through natural habitat restoration has been proven to support bee diversity and abundance and measurably increase crop production.

In an effort to increase public education while enhancing local habitat and bee forage, the Environmental Youth Alliance Society (EYA) launched the Nectarscape Project.

With funding through the Bee BC Program, the project engaged 30 youth volunteers, including Indigenous youth, to transform uncultivated areas of food-producing community gardens into native wildflower strips, or nectarscapes.

“The plantings will provide floral and nesting resources for both native and honey bees, which will conserve bee biodiversity to support crop pollination, enhance the climate-resilience of local urban farms and support a sustainable food system in BC,” explains project coordinator Emily Keller.

During two eight-week programs the volunteers learned to identify Western honey bees and 56 species of native bees present in the Lower Mainland, as well as characteristics of different bee species and bee-supporting native plants, and how to seed and grow nectar/pollen-rich native wildflowers. A 10m2 native wildflower strip was then planted at four prominent food-producing community gardens.

According to Keller, cost-effectiveness is one of the many benefits the nectarscape technique offers.

“This project will share knowledge of an affordable way to create new bee forage that supports climate-resilient urban farms and community gardens,” she says. “Native wildflower seeds are relatively inexpensive compared with other forage-enhancing practices, providing an affordable management practice to support bee health.”

EYA plans to maintain the new bee forage for the next three years, while sharing information with site partners and other urban farms and gardens. Forage management will then be transitioned to local farmers and community gardeners who have received training.

For Keller, the project has contributed to bee health in several ways and made a significant impact on participants, many of whom reported new appreciation and knowledge of bees, and a desire to continue creating urban bee habitat.

“It has encouraged local youth to be ambassadors for bee health, directly created new bee foraging areas and developed a new native wildflower seed mix that can be shared and used to create additional foraging areas,” she reports.

While it is too early to fully assess the impact of the project, phase two will engage youth to monitor how successfully the meadows established and the impact of the meadows on different bee species.

“That said,” adds Keller, “existing science shows that creating wildflower strips does benefit bee biodiversity.”

Funding: $5,000 through the BC Government’s Bee BC Program. (BEE009)

IAF Bids Farewell to Longest-Standing Program Manager

When Coreen Rodger Berrisford first set foot in IAF in 2004, she was expecting a temporary assignment from her regular post with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Hoping to work more directly with industry, she accepted a six-month contract as a Program Manager. But by the end of her term she realized “this was it,” an epiphany which sparked a fifteen-year career with the Foundation.

Now the Director of Client Relations, her tenure has seen no shortage of challenges, opportunities and adventures. Beloved for her optimism and energy, Coreen views not only her success but her entire scope of work as merely one part of a larger whole, with every achievement defined by the relationships they influence and inspire.

“This is a great place to work if you want to feel like you’ve accomplished something, I know people really appreciate the work that IAF does and the support it gives,” she explains. “In my role I’m often on the receiving end of that recognition, having worked with clients on hundreds of applications to help build their projects.”

And while she has either managed or collaborated on more than a dozen funding programs and initiatives in areas like agricultural area planning, labour, innovation, export and apiculture, her favourite projects allowed her to work directly with farming committees to address pressing issues like biosecurity and animal care, or opportunities like agri-tourism.

The Poultry Biosecurity Initiative, for instance, while initially the most challenging pursuit, resulted in a significant decrease of Avian Influenza and reduced impacts to industry.

For Coreen, the diversity of responsibilities entrusted to her is one of the many reasons she’s chosen to remain with IAF for over a decade.

“When you think of all the work we have done as an organization its pretty broad, its hit almost every area of need,” she describes.

Conversely, its also what’s allowed her to focus her interests and encouraged her to launch her own business, CORAN Consulting. Her first opportunity – serving as the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission’s new General Manager!

“It’s the next step in working directly with and for farmers again, that’s what I’m looking forward to,” she says. “It takes my favourite part of working with IAF and makes it my core activities.”

But like most transitions in life, the change is bittersweet, with her departure leaving an undeniable void for her teammates.

“Working with good staff makes all the difference – we support each other and that’s made it a really great place to work,” she emphasizes, adding that she’s also enjoyed many rewarding relationships with IAF directors over the years as well.

 “They are really industry leaders who put so much of their own time into making IAF successful and their industry successful.”

With the last 15 years reflecting a mix of elements simultaneously stimulating, dynamic, fun and heartwarming, Coreen leaves stronger than when she arrives, primed for her next role. 

“There are no lost opportunities – I’ve done it all, which is why I feel like I can finally go.”

Sutherland Gets Set For Market Development Tour

We recently sat down with Sutherland S.A. Produce as they prepared to embark on their 2019 export initiative. Thanks to Market Development funding under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial agreement, the Kelowna grower and packer is gearing up to promote BC cherries, blueberries and apples during a series of US and Asian trade missions this fall. Included in their ambitious itinerary are Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and potentially Japan (which opened its doors to BC cherries for the first time in 2018).

Aiming to familiarize itself with each market’s specific needs and capabilities, Sutherland will meet directly with various supermarket buyers and online retailers, making sure to inspect their potential client’s facilities.

“These visits are crucial for allowing us to assess the retail outlets firsthand and ensure that potential clients have proper cold-chain facilities and other logistics in place,” director of sales Rick Chong explains. “Ultimately, we need to be confident that the fruit we export will have a reasonable shelf-life and the Canadian brand will be maintained.”

Project funding will also enable Sutherland to attend Asia Fruit Logistica (AFL) in Hong Kong in September and the Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit in California in October, both crucial tradeshows for their target markets.

AFL alone attracts over 50,000 visitors from all over Asia and the Middle East, offering Sutherland a venue to meet prospective new customers while strengthening relationships with existing clients.

Having completed previous export initiatives through IAF-delivered programs, Sutherland knows how critical funding support is for activities that can be prohibitively expensive for many companies.

“The funding we have received from the governments of Canada and BC has been an immense contribution to our business development in export markets – we could not afford to attend these shows without some financial assistance,” says Chong, adding that Sutherland’s annual sales have risen by at least 30 percent due to tradeshow participation and has allowed them to hire more staff.

The Sutherland team is equally optimistic for their newest project, both for themselves and for the approximately 200 BC growers they represent who stand to benefit from increased export opportunities.

Stay tuned to learn more about Sutherland’s latest expedition, we’ll catch up with them again this coming fall!

Funding: $50,000 from the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canadian Agricultural Partnership, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. (MD019)

Blueberry Growers Defend Biodiversity

Indigenous to the Fraser Valley, Western Barn Owls can be a berry grower’s best friend, patrolling farm fields at night for voles and other unwelcome visitors. By weight, these owls consume more rodents than most other predators, making them one of the most economically valuable wildlife animals for agriculture.

In recent years however, these predatory powerhouses have faced mounting pressures such as habitat loss and secondary poisoning from consuming pests with rodenticide in their systems.

In an effort to lift the owls from the threatened species list, the Fraser Basin Council Society (FBCS) teamed with local Abbotsford growers to explore an integrated pest management approach (IPM) that would reduce rodenticide use and provide habitat and nesting sites to host western barn owls.

According to project manager Christina Toth, part of the problem for farmers was a lack of clarity on rodenticide application levels.

“By educating producers on the correct and appropriate application to protect their crops, they can not only save time, money and labour, but help protect biodiversity in the Fraser Valley,” Toth explains, adding that the benefits extend beyond owls to other predatory raptors and mammals potentially affected by rodenticide use.

Fact sheets in both English and Punjabi are now available to growers, offering best practices for rodenticide use, as well as tips on how to assess vole presence and damage to crops and how to develop more effective, economical and environmentally sustainable IPM plans.

So far 11 blueberry farms have implemented best management practices for rodenticide use and installed barn owl nest boxes to help control voles.

Toth sees the project as a ground-breaking initiative, both in terms of farm management and environmental stewardship.

“We’ve had amazing response from both conventional and organic growers eager for information that will help them enhance the relationship between agriculture and the environment,” she says.

Given that BC is one of the largest highbush blueberry-growing regions in the world, the project was especially timely.

Parm Bains, who grows both conventional and organic blueberries at Westberry Farms in Abbotsford, is relieved a new approach for pest control is available after having long struggled with the vole problem.

“In the last ten years especially,” he describes, “we’ve seen the problem getting worse and worse—in conventional fields, we’re having to use rodenticides far more frequently, which of course carries both environmental and economic impacts.”

With new barn owl nest boxes installed in his fields, Westberry Farms is now part of the growing industry shift that prioritizes sustainability.

And while the focus centered mostly on blueberry growers, the resources developed through the project are applicable to other agricultural sectors, including vegetable and tree fruit growers, viticulture, nurseries and the newly expanding small grains and hops sectors.

Fact sheets and information on nest boxes are available to growers through the BC Blueberry Council website and its new smartphone app.

Funding: $20,000 through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (A0814AE)