A Homegrown Solution for BC Hop Growers

As hop growers the world over know, a successful harvest demands a delicate balancing act. With hop cones containing close to 84 percent moisture at harvest, growers have a narrow window in which they must reduce moisture down to ten percent, while conditioning the crop to ensure each part of the cone dries evenly.

To further complicate matters, both drying and conditioning must adhere to prescribed limits of temperature, air humidity, air speed and time, and account for variables such as environmental factors, conditions of the crop at harvest, and varietal differences. And as many growers have had the frustration of discovering, both under-drying and over-drying will compromise the quality of the hops and their storage life.

Fortunately there is a new solution at hand for BC hop growers, thanks to a project by Vice Design to develop a sensor-monitored drying and conditioning unit for farms between five and 100 acres (which accounts for nearly all hop operations in BC).

Raymond Bredenhof, Chair of the BC Hop Growers Association (BCHGA), is among many who have been seeking an improved alternative for small-scale producers. While commercially available models already existed, Raymond insists they missed the mark in serving the needs of the BC industry.

“Previous methods either involved building modular equipment on-site, purchasing a small commercial modular system or buying a large commercial option, with each of these methods entailing their own setbacks and complications,” he describes.

Larger commercial units, for instance, not only constitute a major capital investment, they also require intensive infrastructures and do not accommodate hop farms under 50 acres. And because most companies are based in the United States or Germany, they can provide only limited support—a significant drawback considering the intense and timely nature of hop farming.

“Once ripe, the hop harvest window is approximately two to three weeks,” explains Raymond, “so time spent waiting for a part or technical support is revenue lost through wasted product.”

According to Vice Design president, James Boileau, BC producers now have access to local support and affordable technology that will consistently produce high quality hops in good time.

“There are specific standards in dried hops required by many breweries in order to create quality beer, making it essential that hop producers have a reliable method of drying and conditioning their product,” says James, who anticipates the unit will provide a 20 percent revenue boost based on spoilage reduction and enhanced quality.

For Raymond and others in the BCHGA, the new machinery is especially advantageous to new entrants to the industry.

“One of the most difficult and daunting tasks to a new farmer in the hop industry is sourcing equipment,” he emphasizes. “Reducing this impairment can only help increase the opportunity for success in the burgeoning industry of hop production.”

During a recent open house to showcase the device, many small- to medium-scale hops producers were similarly impressed, especially with the ability to custom modify the unit to suit producer output.

“Many hops farmers have expressed interest in our machine,” James reports hopefully. “Time will tell if our solution becomes widely adopted or not.”

Funding: $74,591 committed through the federal-provincial Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AF014-A151)

One Fund, Seven Million

There’s still $7 million in project funding available to BC’s agriculture and agri-food industry through the Agri-Food Futures Fund (AFFF)! Often the unsung hero of IAF’s program portfolio, the AFFF initiative has nonetheless proven profoundly instrumental in advancing a diversity of sectors throughout the province.

Established with federal-provincial funding in 2001, AFFF has contributed more than $21 million to hundreds of projects, since inception, in areas like agri-tourism, environmental management, Aboriginal agriculture, food and beverage processing, agroforestry, emerging sectors and more.

“By aiding in the expansion of both established and emerging agricultural and food processing sectors, the AFFF initiative has fulfilled a vital role in strengthening BC agriculture as a whole,” says IAF chair, Ken Bates, adding that AFFF also has a potentially significant part to play as the industry pursues the goal of $15 billion in revenue per year by 2020.

It was AFFF funding that supported the development of a business model that provides Aboriginal entrepreneurs with a template for launching their own line of value-added products under distinctly native-themed branding. Using the template, Aboriginal communities can create a business plan that reflects their individual situations in terms of regional natural resources, land and human resource availability, potential economic development and more.

The Islands Agriculture Show owes its origin to the pilot project funded through the Islands Agri-Food Initiative under AFFF. After a successful first run, the show evolved into an annual event and remains the only agricultural trade show serving the farm and food community on Vancouver Island, Coast and Gulf Islands.

Across the pond, farmers and environmentalists in the Lower Mainland are receiving project support to explore the cultivation of ecosystem services on farmland that will help protect salmon habitat, maintain clean water, provide overwintering habitat for migratory birds and more.

While there are many sectors and projects that receive funding through this initiative, there are certain areas of priority under AFFF, including emerging sectors, food safety and quality, and food and beverage processing.

Emerging sectors are characterized by a potential to introduce new production systems, products, markets, standards, processes, management practices or technologies into the industry. Eligible projects usually address the gaps in applied scientific knowledge, technology adaptation and transfer, pre-commercialization exploration, skills, business development and collaboration with potential partners in order to seize new business opportunities.

Applications are open to all emerging sectors in the agriculture, agri-food and agri-based products industries, including:

  • Small scale/lot agriculture
  • Natural health products
  • Aboriginal agriculture
  • Agri-tourism and direct farm marketing
  • Bio-products
  • New environmental management practices
  • Apiculture
  • Small-scale food processing
  • Women
  • Mushrooms

Funding is also available for small-to-large scale food and beverage processors for projects that align with one or more of the following strategic priorities under the AFFF Food and Beverage Processing Initiative:

  • Enhance the sectoral competitive position of BC food and beverage processors
  • Build BC’s reputation as a leader in health and lifestyle-oriented products
  • Build business relationships and collaboration with value-chain partners
  • Enhance communications and coordination among industry stakeholders

All applications should demonstrate a broad benefit to BC’s agriculture and/or agrifoods sectors. AFFF is a cost-shared program, with both financial and in-kind project contributions considered for matching funding.

Talk to us today to learn more about program eligibility and requirements!

Funding for the Agri-Food Futures Fund is provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia. (A0677ES, AF002-I0497, AF021-006AE-SP)

20 Years & Still Growing

2016 marked a significant milestone for BC agriculture and IAF, as we celebrated our 20th anniversary in Abbotsford last April. Along with industry and government, IAF directors and staff reflected on a rich collaboration that has fueled agri-food industry growth, competitiveness and sustainability across the province.

IAF’s formation in 1996 proved a pivotal turning point in BC’s agricultural evolution, with industry gaining unprecedented management of federal adaptation funding. Starting with the Canadian Adaptation and Rural Development Fund and closing with the Canadian Agricultural and Adaptation Program, the adaptation era represents more than $21 million of project investments in BC alone.

While dozens of funding programs have come and gone through IAF’s tenure, each has indelibly contributed to BC’s agricultural legacy. But don’t take our word for it— in 2016, IAF commissioned R.A. Malatest & Associates to complete an impact study to assess the economic, environmental and social impacts of government investments delivered by IAF and the results speak for themselves.

For funding recipients through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, federal-provincial funding allowed many to pursue more thorough research than would have been otherwise possible. Not only did project support result in new product lines for some, but several credit the funding for contributing to broader social and environmental impacts.

Michael Gilbert, founder of SemiosBio Technologies Inc. (Semios), is one of many who has witnessed multiple benefits unfold through his project. Considered a pioneer of precision farming in BC, Semios offers advanced technological services that combines data management science with agricultural best management practices. Using Innovation funding, Gilbert was able to implement and enhance a cost-effective application of pheromones for codling moth mating disruption. Not only has this allowed orchardists to minimize their use of inputs and reduce environmental impacts, but the Semios system also protects biodiversity by only applying species-specific pheromones that do not affect beneficial insects.

But the benefits don’t stop there. According to Gilbert, funding to develop the new technology also allowed him to significantly grow his enterprise in terms of managed land and workforce.

“The Semios team grew from five employees to thirty over the course of the project,” says Gilbert, adding that they have since expanded from managing only a couple hundred acres to nearly 13,000, comprising nearly 200 new clients.

Enhancing production and sharing best management practices is a cause shared by the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission (BCCMC). Thanks to government funding delivered by IAF, the BCCMC embarked on a five-year project to develop the BC Cranberry Research Farm, the first research facility of its kind in Canada and the fourth in North America. While the Farm was created with the aim of increasing cranberry production within Canada, it has drawn considerable interest—even longing—from all over the continent.

“We’ve had many cranberry researchers from all over North America, standing there with envy in their eyes wishing they had a centre like this to work at,” recalls Jack Brown, BCCMC chair.

In addition to providing BC growers with information to improve their plantings, researchers are also exploring the impacts of cranberry production on greenhouse gases, insect populations and soil and groundwater.

For Brian and Corin Mullins, owners of HapiFoods Group Inc., funding through the BC Buy Local Program and the BC Agrifood and Seafood Export Program was indispensable in securing their now iconic Holy Crap cereal in both local and international markets.

Thanks to in-store demos that served almost 7,000 samplers, Holy Crap sales soared from four bags to 25 bags per day in BC chain stores like Whole Foods Market, Overwaitea, Save on Foods, Choices Market and London Drugs, as well as at smaller independent grocery stores in BC.

HapiFoods then moved into the international arena, focusing on US and Asian markets, including Japan, China and Korea. Export funding enabled them to participate in 17 tradeshows that have created international brand awareness and generated international trade potential for the burgeoning enterprise.

“We would probably have done 10 to 15 percent of what we did if we were on our own,” Corin estimates. “Export and Buy Local funding was critical to our company’s growth by providing us with the means to ramp up production and marketing.”

These are just some of the many stories that illustrate the very tangible impacts that these investments have made over the years.

Since its inception, IAF has delivered $192 million in government funding to more than 1,700 projects that are helping to stimulate sizable growth for farm, food and processing businesses across the province. In terms of economic impact, the Malatest study found these investments leverage $1.85 for every dollar, totaling $355 million!

Although funding programs and priorities have changed over the past two decades, the focus of IAF remains steadfast – to support industry through each challenge and opportunity, building a stronger, more adaptive community and securing BC’s place as a leader in agricultural production.

Funding: $140,000 provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative (INN018); $218,133 provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia (A0678.01, A0678.02); $44,326 provided by the governments of Canada and British Columbia through the BC Agrifood & Seafood Export Program under Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative, and the BC Government’s Buy Local Program (BL151, EX017, EX017.02, EX069, EX069.02, EX203, EX317, EX347).

Brewing Success in BC

The growth of the craft brewing, cider and distillery industries is no secret in B.C. The B.C. Government estimates the number of craft brewers in has more than doubled since 2010, from 54 breweries to 118 in 2016.

The IAF is supporting this rapidly expanding sector by investing in market research, innovation, local and international sales. Since August 2013, IAF has delivered more than $490,000 in federal and provincial funding to 14 projects, ranging from innovating the spirit distilling process, to supporting cider export, and assisting the local marketing efforts of craft brews.

With the resurgence of craft brewing and distilling, the interest in and demand for specialty malts is growing. Malted grains provide the necessary enzymes for the starch to sugar conversion in fermenting alcohol, as well as much of the important flavour and aroma in beer and spirits such as whisky. The art of malting grains is centuries old, and while small-scale malting used to be commonplace, in North America the industry is dominated by a handful of large malting houses.

With support through the Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation program, Pemberton Distillers embarked on a one-year pilot project to design and build a micro-malting machine, and test the feasibility of a small-scale micro-malting facility to produce local specialty and custom malted grains for the growing craft brewing and distilling industries in BC.

Pemberton Distillers is a certified B.C. craft distiller specializing in organic spirits, including single malt whisky.

“Our goal has always been to showcase the terroir of the Pemberton Valley in our spirits,” says Lorien Schramm, director of product development. “When you get a Scottish peated malt, it’s something distinctive to that area. The malting machine gives us the ability to make custom malts for our whisky using Pemberton peat or Pemberton wood.”

Overall, the process worked well to produce small batches of custom malt for distilling, but will need to be refined to produce the volume of malt needed by brewers.

“There is a lot of interest from craft brewers,” says Lorien. “We are really interested in seeing how we can grow that as well.”

Funding: $14,775.00 through the Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation Program. [INN198]

CRAFT BREWING, CIDER & DISTILLERY PROJECT FUNDING DELIVERED BY IAF SINCE 2013

File No.Project TitleProject LeadIAF’s Share ($)Program Funding*
A0770The Current Feasibility and Working Business Models for Small Scale Commercial Hop Farming in B.C.Persephone Brewing Company Inc.25,700.00SNF
BL100Strategic Branding, Labelling, In-store Promotions, and Communication to drive Sales/Revenue GrowthThe Liberty Distillery8,025.00BL
BL133Howling Moon’s “Rooted in B.C.” Cider RevolutionOkanagan Epicurean Enterprises Inc. d/b/a Howling Moon Cider House11,875.00BL
BL140Bliss…a different kind of Buzz!Meadow Vista Honey Wines9,921.00BL
EX127Howe Sound Brewing Eastern United States Export PromotionHowe Sound Brewing Company Ltd11,400.00EX
EX183Promotion of the X Four Vodka in the USA marketVon Albrecht & Associates12,568.32EX
EX221Sea Cider USA Export Development via Tradeshow & In-market Visit to WashingtonSea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse2,525.00EX
EX226VIP Event and Custom Agricultural Seminar for Florida Trade MissionBC Hop Company Ltd.4,750.00EX
EX264Sea Cider USA Export Development via Cider Conference Attendance & In-market Visit to Portland, OregonSea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse2,625.00EX
INN080Transforming the Okanagan Apple Sector through Hard Cider & BlendsThe BX Press Inc.46,451.00INN
INN198Micro-maltery Pilot ProjectPemberton Distillery Inc.14,775.00INN
INN254Development of a Small Scale In-bottle Pasteurization Process & EquipmentSea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse51,243.00INN
INN273Regional Hops Drying Kiln (Pilot)BC Hop Company Ltd.285,000.00INN
SP176Exploring the Viability of Hard Cider as a Value-Added product for Okanagan Apple GrowersDobernigg Orchards5,969.00CAAP

*FUNDING PROGRAMS
BL – B.C. Government’s Buy Local Program (Government of British Columbia)
CAAP – former federal Canadian Agricultural Adaptation Program (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada)
EX – B.C. Agrifoods and Seafood Export Program (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Government of British Columbia through the Growing Forward 2 Initiative)
INN – Canada-B.C. Agri-Innovation Program (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Government of British Columbia through the Growing Forward 2 Initiative)
SNF – former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework

Helping Processors Meet Retailers Needs

In the world of supply and demand, it makes good business sense to know what your customers want. That’s why BC’s food processors recently completed a survey to help their industry understand the changing needs of grocery retailers.

Women, millennials (under 30) and seniors were identified by retailers as their top three demographics, with Chinese, South Asian, Filipino and Korean leading the ethnic categories.

As for targeted product categories, local foods was far and away the leading priority for BC retailers, with gluten free, natural health products, organic and private label also scoring high.

“The survey provides some insight for BC processors on the areas of emphasis for retailers,” says James Donaldson, CEO of the BC Food Processors Association. “The desire for offering foods sourced locally has long been a growing trend with both retailers and consumers, but the survey also identifies some category and demographic priorities that present areas of opportunity for the industry.”

Somewhat surprisingly, given the prominence in media coverage these days, GMO free foods did not rank as a high priority by retailers.

In addition to questions about latest consumer trends, the industry also learned that more than half of the retailers have procurement and hiring policies in place. In a second survey, they sought to understand the hiring strategies of BC food processors.

The project also included the creation of a searchable online database of food, beverage and natural health product processors in BC that will help retailers source suppliers and products. A link to the online directory is available on the association’s website: www.bcfpa.ca

Funding: $34,205 through the Agri-Food Futures Fund, Food and Beverage Processing Initiative. (AF014-136)

A New Public Market for Victoria

In the spring of 2013, a new permanent farmers’ market will become a destination for locals and tourists in downtown Victoria, thanks in part to a project partially funded through IAF.

Portable tents and tables are the standard structures at most farmers’ markets in BC these days.  Occupying a space on a permanent basis, like Granville Island Public Market in Vancouver, carries greater financial risk.

Unfortunately, several attempts at establishing permanent farmers’ markets in BC have failed in recent years.

“We didn’t want our permanent market to become a ghost town,” states Philipe Lucas, chair of the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society (VDPMS).  “We needed to determine how to grow our market in a feasible way.”

The Victoria Public Market Needs Assessment and Governance Model project identified key success factors of thriving permanent markets in nine North American cities.

The project also included a thorough market analysis and a financial plan for five years.

A local developer expressed interest in including a market in its mixed residential-retail development on the site of the former Hudson’s Bay in downtown Victoria.

This site became an important case study in the project.

“Because the VDPMS has signed an agreement with Townline Properties to manage the market at the Hudson, we will be able to provide competitive rates for our vendors,” declares Lucas. “This is a win-win partnership.”

Funding: $10,000 provided through the Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AF002-I0503)

Okanagan Similkameen Reduces Ag Waste

Some projects are so successful, the benefits keep coming and new projects are born. That’s what’s happening in the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen (RDOS).

Historically, burning was a common orchard removal practice in RDOS. Sadly, wood smoke is one of the most dangerous health hazards in BC.

“Regional districts have the capability and expertise in many areas that can significantly support the farming sector,” remarks Brian Baehr, manager of agriculture environment initiatives at ARDCORP. “The RDOS is a leader in responding to the service needs of agriculture at a local government level.”

In 2006, the RDOS took measures to reduce farm burning by developing an on-farm chipping program and waiving the tipping fees at the landfill for properly prepared agricultural waste.

In implementing these programs, two opportunities emerged to benefit both agriculture and the environment: 1) using wood chips as mulch to improve the soil and 2) improving recycling options for farmers.

In 2007, with funding from IAF through the Agriculture Environment Stewardship Initiative, comprehensive guides highlighting best management practice for wood waste disposal and recycling of agricultural plastics made a significant impact on agricultural practices in the region.

“With the funding from IAF, we were able to reduce both smoke pollution and waste going to the landfill substantially in a remarkably short period of time,” observes Allan Patton, a farmer and RDOS director for electoral area “C” (rural Oliver).

In 2010, with funding from the Agriculture Environment and Wildlife Fund, RDOS further updated the guides, complementing them with extension and educational materials to expand the program even more.

Ten minute film clips covering all of the material were developed and made available in both English and Punjabi.  Presentations were made at grower meetings and guides were widely distributed at local agribusinesses and government offices.

“When additional opportunities were identified, growers were more than willing to participate,” notes Janice Johnson, owner of A Foot Step Closer, consultant on these projects and former air quality coordinator with RDOS. “These projects not only strengthen agriculture, but they also improve air quality, soil health and water for our entire region. “

For more information visit: www.rdos.bc.ca

Funding: $30,000 provided through the Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AEWF 10-005, 006, 013)

Natural Option for Starling Control

BC blueberry growers lose millions of dollars each year to starling damage. These prolific and invasive birds descend on berry fields to eat the ripe fruit, causing significant damage.

Noisemakers, nets, trapping, and chemicals are tools in the arsenal of the blueberry grower for starling control, but often these solutions are incomplete, costly, and controversial.

Karen Steensma, biologist, farmer, and professor at Trinity Western University, is working with farmers in BC and Washington State to re-build kestrel populations in agricultural areas, and assess their potential as a natural deterrent to starlings and other pest birds.

Kestrels are the smallest falcon in North America, and the only native birds of prey that will adopt a nest box. They inhabit open fields or forest edges, and feed on insects, rodents and small birds. The small raptors are fiercely territorial, and have shown promise as effective competitors against starlings in some US cherry orchards. Once kestrels are established, a single nesting pair may protect up to 10 acres.

The project started by putting up over 100 nest boxes adjoining blueberry fields in the Fraser Valley, and Whatcom and Skagit Counties, but it was clear that just providing boxes wasn’t enough.

“In working with biologists, falconers, farmers and scientists on both sides of border, we found that the background populations in this region were so low that it would take years before we could get a good level of occupancy,” says Steensma.

To start building the population up, they imported young orphaned birds from other parts of the US. Steensma and her team have released 21 kestrels south of the border since 2008, and now the birds are starting to use nest boxes in those areas.

The study has also mapped land-use patterns for the region to determine where kestrels are most likely to succeed.

“The birds need habitat to nest, as well as ways to make a living – to obtain food,” says Steensma. “The young kestrels practice on flies, bees and dragonflies. That’s part of their diet. Having small rodents in the grass and the insects present, all of that makes it likely they will nest.”

Funding: $8,000 through the Agri-Food Futures Fund. (AEWF 09-023)

Native Plants Provide Restoration

In 2008, a small wild plant nursery was established by the Lillooet Naturalist Society and the Cayoose Creek Indian Band to provide native plants for a restoration project along the Fraser River.

More than 7,000 plants later, the nursery has bloomed into a potentially significant commercial and cultural enterprise for the Cayoose Creek band.

With help from IAF, that potential is being explored through the preparation of an economic business and marketing plan for commercializing the existing nursery and restoration services, and evaluating the potential of value-added products for market.

Along the way, the project has not only engaged elders and youth through training and mentoring activities, but is providing employment to the local community, encouraging healthy eating habits and fostering economic growth…all while restoring traditional lands to original ecosystems for the benefit of wildlife.

As if that weren’t enough, the nursery was also selected for the BC Landscape and Nursery Association’s 2011 Stewardship Award.

Cayoose Creek band member Karen Edwards has been working at the restoration site and nursery for the past four years, and is excited to see the benefits unfolding for her community.

“We’re providing an accessible site where all generations can come together and learn,” Edwards says. “This is helping to keep our traditions alive.”

While the work has primarily been focused in the St’at’imc traditional territories, members from surrounding bands and interested Lillooet community members are able to participate in workshops and volunteer activities. It is also anticipated that many of the skills and products developed could be adapted to similar landscapes within the Thompson/Okanagan region.

Funding: up to $62,912 provided through the Agri-Food Futures Fund, Emerging Sectors Initiative. (A0647 ES)