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.

FreeYumm Family Celebrates Record Sales

FreeYumm Foods is enjoying a growing BC fan base, thanks to their recent local marketing initiative. After a successful series of outreach and promotional activities, including more than 80 in-store demonstrations and three consumer trade shows, the Vancouver-based family business witnessed a 50 percent sales spike during the first year of their campaign!

Created in a dedicated bakery and free from the top nine priority allergens, FreeYumm’s gluten-free, allergen- and vegan-friendly snack bars allow diet-sensitive consumers to purchase food with minimal planning, effort or stress.

After an initial local marketing project helped introduce FreeYumm in stores and create the first wave of brand awareness in BC, president Sarah Clarke again turned to buy local funding when it came time to accelerate sales and launch their new line of healthy cookies.

In addition to the ambitious circuit of events, Clarke credits the unique and professional marketing materials they developed with project funding, including in-store displays and shelf-talkers.

“Thanks to funding support we’ve been able to provide a consistent, strong brand image to the consumer, capturing their attention and clearly outlining the benefits of our local BC brand,” explains Clarke.

As a result of the project, she was able to secure a new listing with Thrifty Foods and continues to see growth with all existing retail outlets like Whole Foods Market and Save-On-Foods.

For Clarke, overtaking brands from out-of-province competitors and gaining more market share for BC businesses is almost as satisfying as the sales increase itself.

“We are seeing strong sales at all chains but beyond this FreeYumm has solidified itself as a legitimate brand in the industry, often outselling other leading brands,” she says, noting that she frequently hears from retailers reporting that FreeYumm is now their number one selling granola bar.

Good news not just for the FreeYumm family but for the many partners they rely on to provide locally sourced food, packaging and equipment.

Funding: $19,678 provided by the Government of British Columbia. (BL139, BL253)

Richmond Enterprise Expands Gummy Empire

In its quest to make nutrition both fun and functional, Herbaland Naturals has evolved into Canada’s largest manufacturer of nutritional gummy products – but as any successful entrepreneur knows, staying on top requires continuous creativity, innovation and an ability to adapt to market trends.

With North American consumer demand of gummy supplements forecasted to continue, Herbaland co-founders Musharaf Syed and Aisha Yang needed a way to differentiate their product line against larger corporate competitors in the crowded nutraceutical industry.

“The US market in particular is highly competitive and demanding of innovations in the gummy product sector, including flexible and green packaging options,” explains Aisha. “We received numerous requests from large US companies for these capabilities and were convinced this was the way to expand.”

Luckily for the family business, the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program was there to help meet that demand. Cost-shared project funding allowed them to purchase and calibrate two pieces of equipment that would secure them a coveted advantage.

With their new dual texture gummy production machine, they can now combine two gummy formulas into a single piece, expand their product range, and use ingredients that are sensitive to air, light, crystallization or other factors without a protective coating.

The new equipment also enables them to design different active ingredients and colors for inside and outside layers, allowing them to offer an enhanced variety of nutritional characteristics tailored to specific client requests.

For Aisha, one of the many benefits the new technology affords is an enhanced relationship with their local network.

“Increasing our volume has increased our purchasing power, allowing us to be more discriminating of suppliers and able to more effectively liaise with local agri-suppliers,” she says, noting that they’re currently working with more than ten local producers as a result of the project.

North of 49 Naturals, for instance, supplies Herbaland with organic cranberry and blueberry powder sourced from farms in Richmond, Abbotsford, Delta and Langley. With the new machinery in place, North of 49 president, Andrew Small is excited to see a steady increase in purchasing from Herbaland.

“It’s great to see the support as we all know we need it to get our local products value-added into new markets!” he says.

And with the addition of a flexible green packaging machine, Herbaland has also emerged as a leader in corporate sustainability, offering one of the only form and seal solutions to fully comply with all commercially-available biodegradable film types.

With increased production, enhanced quality and reduced bottling costs, Herbaland expects these new features to generate at least $2.5 million in additional sales over the next five years and has already hired eight more full-time staff to meet the surge in demand.

“We’ve been receiving lots of positive feedback and orders from our local and overseas customers, including large American nutraceutical companies,” Aisha reports. “We have even embarked on several new projects with GNC Global, expected to generate over one million USD annually.”

And thanks to additional funding delivered by IAF for local and international marketing initiatives, Herbaland has also been able to increase domestic sales by over 400 percent and export revenues by 120 percent between 2016 and 2017.

While excited about the immediate increase in returns, Herbaland is focused on their longer-term vision, determined to become a global leader in the nutraceuticals industry.

“There are not many gummy manufacturing companies that create new and innovative products that will shape the future of the supplement industry—this will be Canada’s first dual texture two active-ingredient gummies that will raise the bar in natural health product markets everywhere,” Aisha predicts.

Funding: $146,223 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative for the innovation and export projects (INN285, EX001, EX124, EX253, EX364, EX475); $28,250 committed by the Government of British Columbia for the Buy Local project (BL412).

Local Start-up Changes Breakfast in BC

Anyone ever in line at a café or deli knows the familiar sight that fruit and yogurt cups present—what is less common (at least in BC) is a local, organic version of this popular staple.

Fortunately Chilliwack entrepreneur and passionate locavore Jillian Hull decided to fill the gap by undertaking two IAF projects that would help her develop, commercialize and market Jumpstarter, a unique BC product that now boasts mass appeal.

For Hull, the founder and CEO of JillyV’s Enterprises, the ability to access multiple funding sources for each phase of her venture was critical to achieving market success.

Agri-Innovation funding, for instance, enabled the development of the food technology needed to create the freeze/thaw formulation for Jumpstarter, a yogurt-based breakfast product layered with chia, oatmeal and low-sugar fruit compote that is now expanding the JillyV business.

“Being able to distribute nutrient-dense frozen products to vendors who then thaw and serve means we can distribute far beyond our current geographical capacity,” Hull explains.

So far Jumpstarter is the only dairy product in North America offering this feature, an innovation that has fostered broader opportunities not just for Hull but for her local partners and suppliers.

“We use local sources for our yogurt, including Avalon Dairy and Pacific Coast Fruit Products, as well as local distributors for all other products like oatmeal and chia,” she reports, adding they also use a local box manufacturer, refrigerated trucking and storage, and a co-packer in Chilliwack that employs about ten staff to assemble Jumpstarter.

In 2018 alone, Hull estimates the trickle-down effect on many agriculture and food-related industries will surpass $600,000 in increased revenues.

But moving the product to market was only half the battle.

Creating brand recognition in the increasingly competitive “whole meal replacement” category presented the next challenge in the Jumpstarter saga.

After repeatedly dealing with customers unaware of her company’s locale, Hull decided to undertake a local marketing initiative to highlight Jumpstarter as a truly proud BC brand.

“We consider ourselves ‘triple local’ as our product is grown, raised and made here in BC,” says Hull proudly. “Emphasizing this attribute offers a considerable marketing advantage as being ‘Made in BC’ has become synonymous with quality, cleanliness and trustworthiness.”

And thanks to funding for a comprehensive campaign that included online advertising, in-store demonstrations, and upgrades to their website, social media platforms and promotional materials, their sales have more than doubled and they are now available in most major retailers across BC.

“This year alone we added Thrifty Foods, expanded our reach with Safeway, added two new distributors, entered into food service/hotel catering, and have agreements with dozens of smaller retailers from hockey arenas to arts centers and organic grocers,” says Hull, who foresees steady growth and already has several new products in the pipeline.

As with their original product line, Hull plans to continue sourcing local ingredients and is looking forward to adding more BC agri-businesses to their network.

“Local is more than a buzz word or a marketing ploy,” she insists. “It’s a commitment to your community that creates a genuine bond and benefits all members, whether you’re making, selling or eating BC food.”

For more information about innovation funding visit iafbc.ca/funding-opportunities/innovation/

Funding: $8,263 provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a former federal-provincial-territorial initiative for the innovation project (INN244SP); $24,569 provided by the Government of British Columbia for the Buy Local project (BL293).

Innovation Front & Center at Project Showcase

Leaders from across the industry came together at the 2018 Showcase of BC Projects in Abbotsford to collectively illustrate some of the latest (and greatest!) ideas that offer a bright future for BC agriculture.

The event, held in conjunction with the IAF Annual General Meeting on April 12th, featured exhibits from close to 40 projects funded through IAF that are helping to fuel innovation and market growth in primary production and food processing.

Hedy Dyck, Chief Operating Officer for the BC Landscape and Nursery Association (BCLNA), was among many funding recipients who have witnessed significant impacts unfold for her sector thanks to project support.

“Showcasing BCLNA’s projects is important to the nursery industry as well as other sectors, as we learn from the diversity of projects and how they can enable industry to move forward to face challenges,” says Hedy. “It is a pleasure to work with IAF to find the pathways to address emerging issues and build a strong and vibrant industry.”

Programs like the Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program proved particularly instrumental for a variety of sectors. For Dr. Saber Miresmailli, Founder and CEO of Ecoation Innovative Solutions, Innovation funding played a vital role in his efforts to advance crop health technology. With the development and commercialization of Crop Sense™, a wireless crop health monitoring system, growers can now identify where and when treatment is needed based on plant-generated signals before symptoms arise, significantly reducing crop loss, labour and pesticide applications.

Zuun Nutrition received Innovation funding to develop and commercialize an all-natural diabetic meal replacement drink, while Big Mountain Foods (BMF) accessed support through different funding programs to help expand their product line and grow their business. After developing the unique meat-free and allergy-friendly CauliCrumble Veggie Grounds with the help of Innovation funding, the family business turned to the BC Government’s Buy Local Program and the BC Agrifood & Seafood Export Program to revitalize their brand. The resulting increase in listings, sales and online exposure in both local and international markets is creating more lucrative opportunities for both BMF and their value chain partners in BC.

“With the increased demand we have been able to evolve from a small- to a medium-sized food manufacturer that is creating more jobs and sourcing more local ingredients,” BMF vice president, Jasmine Chamberland explains, noting that BMF has since employed several more full-time staff and now purchase truckloads of local ingredients instead of pallets.

Whether funding research into more sustainable pest control, technology to enhance animal welfare, or moving new products to market, we are proud to support BC’s leaders and innovators as they drive our industry forward one project at a time.

Project funding was provided by the Governments of Canada and British Columbia through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

Funding for the BC Government’s Buy Local Program is provided by the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

BC Buy Local Award of Excellence

Congratulations again to Kirk Homenick, winner of the inaugural BC Buy Local Award of Excellence!

The president of Naturally Homegrown Foods was recognized in 2017 for his Buy Local campaign, ‘A Chip Close to Home,’ for not only continuing to drive local agrifood sales but also for creating several new jobs for British Columbians.

Recognized as Honourable Mentions were Merissa Myles, Co-Founder of Tree Island Gourmet Yogurt, for using Buy Local funding to connect with grocery buyers, celebrity chefs, and consumers about the benefits of buying 100% BC milk dairy; and Robert Pringle, CEO of the United Flower Growers Cooperative Association, who spearheaded the ‘Flowerful BC’ initiative to encourage consumers to ‘pick local’ when buying plants and flowers.

The BC Buy Local Award of Excellence celebrates one outstanding BC producer or processor based on the achievements of the best Buy Local marketing project—the campaign that was the most creative, strategic and effective in increasing sales and consumer engagement. The 2017 winner was announced at the BC Food Processors Association’s FoodProWest Gala in Vancouver.

Driediger Farms Enjoys Record Numbers

For locals and tourists alike, Driediger Farms Market offers an irresistible Fraser Valley destination, with an abundance of fresh and frozen berries, a bounty of BC products from other local purveyors, and events and U-Pick fields for day-at-the-farm fun.

While the Farm has already helped propel several BC businesses into another phase of growth, Rhonda Driediger felt they could do more and decided to extend their marketing efforts to a broader customer base.

With better roadway signage and a combination of print, radio, online and TV advertising, the Driedigers launched their “local BC all under one roof” campaign closer to the Vancouver region, as well as the Chinese- and Japanese-speaking communities (the former representing one of the fastest growing populations in BC).

According to Rhonda, communicating with their guests in their preferred language represents a significant milestone.

“Marketing directly to the Asian community is new to the Fraser Valley farming industry,” she explains, noting that this demographic represents a large number of BC residents that had little to no communication of the buy local message.”

In less than a year, it was clear that this had changed as both English- and Mandarin-speaking visitors flocked to the farm in record numbers.

“Our 2016 market season saw unprecedented sales results not only in revenue but in product volumes,” reports Rhonda, adding that project results in 2017 were almost equally impressive, despite crop loss due to poor weather.

In addition to revenue spikes in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons, Rhonda was thrilled to see the number of visitors to their Summer Festival grow by over 1,500, as well as a surge of Facebook likes to the tune of 22,000 and counting, and an expansion of value chain partners.

For Rhonda, the ripple effect extending to other agri-businesses is a testament not just to the project’s success, but to a key tenet of the buy local movement—maximizing benefits across the value chain.

“Because of the increase in traffic and sales, we’ve been able to expand our product assortment and add 11 new vendors at the market,” she explains. “Now that we’re a recognized brand within the community we’re able to increase exposure and sales for more BC products, including from more remote areas of the province.”

Part of that exposure is through in-store signage that features free advertising for their vendors with detailed information about the specific farms and manufacturers sold under the Driediger umbrella.

And with growing numbers of locavore converts, Rhonda is finding that public support is leveraging these efforts beyond all expectations, with visitors increasingly engaging online and tweeting and posting pictures of themselves with the Driediger signs on social media.

“The increase in visitors not just from the Asian community but from outside the Fraser Valley is proof of this campaign’s success,” she declares. “We are now the go-to spot for easy access to a diverse collection of premium BC products.”

Funding: $44,021 provided by the BC Government. (BL224)

Hearty Winter Vegetables

Regarded within Central Kootenay as the core of agricultural activity, the Creston Valley has the potential to produce food for the entire Kootenay Region and beyond.

But there are a few problems in the way.

Like many other farming communities, Creston faces challenges including aging farmers and year-round vegetable production in a colder climate. Often when consumers purchase imported vegetables during the winter, they continue the habit during warmer months, undermining local farming.

With IAF’s help, the College of the Rockies took a two-birds-one-stone approach to these issues. From its Creston Valley campus greenhouse, it educated children, youth and families on local food production and provided opportunities to grow winter crops.

Jean Hoover, a program participant and avid gardener who supplies farmers markets, praises the program’s potential to empower the community: “Its about allowing everyone to participate in food production and showing you can get something from practically nothing…even people without yards are growing wonderful produce from their balconies!” Besides demonstrating practical techniques for winter growing, Hoover finds the mere idea behind the program is a powerful tool. “When it comes to local winter crops,” she explains, “there is a gap in the market…this is a concept with tremendous commercial potential.”

True to Hoover’s prediction, program coordinator Anita Sawyer confirms that producers have already begun to diversify their crops and growing season to include a winter harvest. Sawyer believes the year-round production model holds great potential for growers across BC and anticipates an increasing focus on locally produced food, rather than “relying on produce being trucked in.”

According to Sawyer, the project also facilitated connections between agri-businesses, youth and community. “We are seeing many high school student participants exploring careers in agriculture and getting their friends involved.”

With the education of current farmers, the development of future ones, and increasing awareness of local food production on the part of consumers, the winter harvest project is helping to secure the long-term growth and sustainability of BC agriculture. While the information is particularly valuable in the northern climates, the principles of all-season grown can be applied everywhere.

Funding: $55,000 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework (A0588)