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)

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)

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)

Protecting the Future of Food & Farmland in Kelowna

The City of Kelowna is looking forward to their agricultural future, thanks to their newly updated ag plan.

After an 18-month planning process and extensive consultation with both industry and residents, the city’s sustainability coordinator, Tracy Guidi is confident the revised plan reflects the values of a community that holds agriculture at its core.

“Agriculture is such an integrated part of the culture of our city, whether you are a farmer or not,” says Guidi. “And with over 55 percent of our land zoned for agriculture, it is critical that we take steps now to preserve and promote local agriculture and ensure its long-term sustainability.”

With the original plan created in 1998, a modernized framework was desperately needed to provide what the city calls “clear policy and land use direction” that will ensure city agricultural policies are up-to-date, align with the official community plan and reflect recent changes to the Agricultural Land Commission Act.

According to Guidi, safeguarding local agriculture, stewarding natural resources for food production, improving public awareness and access to local food, and identifying opportunities to strengthen farming as an economic driver were all prioritized during consultations.

“Preserving farmland in the face of increasing urbanization was identified as one of the most pressing issues,” she noted, adding that even land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is at risk as it tends to be flat, affordable, geographically appealing and often ideally located, making it desirable for urban development.

For city councillor Tracy Gray, discussion over agricultural land has been fraught with conflict.

“Almost half of our land base is in the ALR so we see the agriculture-urban issues frequently,” she explains. “It creates tension and uncertainty for farmers, residents and among neighbors close to that land.”

In an effort to alleviate some of the pressure, the new plan will focus on updating mapping tools, increasing opportunities for locally grown food, preserving local rural character and building community resilience towards climate change and the rising costs of food.

A total of 51 specific actions are recommended in the new agricultural plan, ranging from targets like restricting non-farm uses on farmland to exploring alternative ownership models to boost production.

So far industry response to the revamp has been overwhelmingly positive, with support from the BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) and the provincial Agricultural Land Commission, to name a few.

BCFGA president, Fred Steele is highly appreciative of the city’s leadership on the issue.

“The BCFGA is pleased to support and endorse the agriculture plan developed by the City of Kelowna,” says Steele. “We believe the plan reflects the current situation and promotes the economic contribution of the agriculture sector in Kelowna, and we are excited to work with the city on its successful implementation.”

The new ag area plan can be viewed at

Funding: $18,590 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (B0016.43)

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)

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]


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

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

Beyond the Market Gives a Hand Up to New Northern Farmers

Since 2010, Community Futures along the BC Highway 16 corridor has been working to support agricultural growth by building community and providing professional development for farmers in the region through the Beyond the Market program.

Their most recent project, the New Farm Development Initiative focused on creating resources and providing support to address one of their biggest challenges.

“One of the main differences between agriculture in the North and South is that land access is not the main challenge, it’s access to information, markets, transportation and that all ties in with general business support services,” says Jillian Merrick, Beyond the Market program coordinator based out of Community Futures Fraser-Fort George. “What the North lacks is not farm land, it’s farmers.”

The New Farm Development Initiative provided support to new farm entrants from business concept to implementation. Staff and volunteers provided assistance in guiding new farm entrants through business planning, market research and financial planning for farm operations, as well as providing technical skills through mentorship and hands-on workshops and seminars.

“We saw a need for tailored coaching and training services akin to old extension services for farm entrepreneurs,” says Merrick. “Through the program we provided ground level service to farmers in the start-up or concept development phase, and created a framework for services that would benefit this region the most.”

Addressing the diversity of the region, and consequently the farmers’ needs required a custom approach. The BC Highway 16 region stretches from Valemount in the Rocky Mountains, through the northern interior plateau, to the temperate coastal climate of Terrace. Put in production terms, that’s 50 to 150 frost-free days per year.

“Everyone has a different learning style and availability. Training events are great for people to meet each other and share experiences, but there was a definite need for one-on-one coaching,” Merrick explains. “Coaching services really help with the business planning process, and save a lot of time because the information is directly relevant to the farmer.”

Tessa Young and her husband moved from the Fraser Valley to buy 40-acres near Prince George and pursue their dream of farming, they were in uncharted territory.

“We moved from Maple Ridge without knowing a single person and having never been here before,” says Young. “We connected with Jillian right away, and she coached me in making a business plan and meeting others in the farming community.”

“Getting connected wasn’t just about finding mentors, but finding other people in the same boat with the same interests to encourage each other along,” she adds. “Working with people that already had experience in this area was invaluable to us in finding a direction that was possible for our business.”

In addition to courses and coaching, the New Farm Development initiative produced the “A-Z Guide for New Northern Farmers.” This unique guide was developed out of a series of outreach events in six different communities along the BC Highway 16 corridor. It compiles answers to dozens of farm-related questions from past, present and future farmers in the area.

The “A-Z Guide for New Northern Farmers” and other resources compiled as part of the New Farm Initiative are available at

Funding: $33,021 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (A0711)

The Wonders of Poultry Offal

“Our customers wanted better options for dealing with poultry offal,” says Alex Berland of Passmore Pluckers, a small provincially-licensed poultry abattoir in the West Kootenays.

With funding through IAF’s Small Projects Program, the company was able to test on-farm composting of offal – heads, necks, feet, guts and feathers – and investigate the feasibility of diverting parts of the waste stream into value-added products.

They constructed a simple and wildlife-secure compost system, and demonstrated it to their customers. They also held two information sessions on composting and bio-secure handling of offal. (This presentation is available online at

They then turned their attention to high value pet food that would meet local demand. By modifying their grinder, they were able to test various mixtures of offal minus the feathers. With a set of simple operating procedures in place to ensure product safety, they have made their grinder available to their customers for a nominal cleaning fee.

“The composting turned out to be pretty easy and we had good results as long as we followed a few simple rules,” adds Berland.

Funding: $7,644 through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (SP201)

Good News for Dairy Cows & Farmers

Lameness is one of the most costly health problems affecting dairy cattle today. Not only will a dairy cow with lame, sore, infected feet produce less milk, but she will be less fertile, have a shorter life expectancy and incur higher health-related costs.

“It’s not just a production issue,” says David Janssens, a Surrey dairy producer who chairs the Dairy Industry Research and Education Committee. “It’s also about animal welfare.”

It was important to accurately identify the types of hoof lesions in BC herds and the extent of the problem before devising solutions.

Most dairy cows get their hooves trimmed at least once a year. Hoof trims are kind of like pedicures for cows. Regularly inspecting their feet puts trimmers in the perfect position to spot lesions.

Under the guidance of the multi-stakeholder BC Dairy Hoof Health Group, AR-PE Hooftrimming of Abbotsford launched a hoof health project.

To kick things off, hoof trimmers were invited to a one-day workshop to learn how to properly identify various lesions and standardize data recording.

“If trimmers are using a digital recorder but aren’t identifying hoof problems in the same way, it creates confusion and misinformation,” says project manager, Ron Barker.

During the ensuing months, more than 32,000 trims were recorded, covering over 15,000 animals from 85 herds throughout BC. Related projects were being conducted concurrently in Alberta and Ontario. In total, there are now records on more than 80,000 cows from 578 herds.

With this solid database to analyze, some interesting findings began to appear, including regional differences in the types of lesions found. Overall, 60 per cent of the cows had at least one lesion. In BC, 47 per cent of the lesions were associated with digital dermatitis.

Lesions can appear for a variety of reasons and a holistic team approach is important to address the issue. The next step was sharing this information with dairy farmers, herd managers and the suppliers of services to the industry, from veterinarians and trimmers to building contractors and feed nutritionists.

In 2012, three one-day seminars were held across BC in the spring culminating in a three-day conference in the fall that covered topics including automated milking, dairy barn design and hoof health, and drew more than 200 participants.

“The first two projects did a good job of training hoof trimmers on proper identification of ailments,” adds Janssens. “Producers are getting better information from their trimmers, plus we now have some hard numbers to show the extent of this issue.”

But that isn’t the end of the story. The industry can now focus its efforts to combat digital dermatitis.

The BC Dairy Association has taken the lead to develop and test an on-farm tool that will help herd managers work with their trimmers, veterinarians and nutritionists to assess hoof health risk and identify recommendations for changes. This team approach is expected to identify hoof problems sooner, thereby decreasing the prevalence of lameness.

“Well over half the cows have problems caused by an infectious bacteria found in cow manure,” adds Barker. “Good manure management in combination with clean, comfortable stalls and effective foot baths are important to reduce cases of infectious foot problems.”

What’s good for the cows is also good for the dairy industry.

“Hoof health can and does have a huge impact on a farm’s bottom line,” says Tom Droppo, dairy industry specialist with BC’s Ministry of Agriculture, who coordinated the outreach activities. “The new practices some dairies have adopted are starting to get other people’s attention.”

Funding: $71,358 for the first two projects through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework (A0628, A0679). The third project has been approved for up to $38,800, through the same program. (A0752)