Simplifying Organic Certification

An innovative, province-wide online tool is now available for producers seeking organic certification! Thanks to a project led by the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC), the once onerous application process has been radically streamlined to save operators time, paperwork and money.

According to Jen Gamble, executive director of the COABC, the online system fills two sizable gaps for the province’s organic sector.

“Previously there were no certification bodies in BC that offered a live online application process,” explains Gamble, adding that the information captured will also populate a database to supply better statistics, another first in BC.

While data on the organic sector is in high demand, it is difficult to access and has never been consistent or reliable.

“Now with accurate numbers we are better positioned to identify gaps and predict potential areas for growth,” anticipates Gamble. “We are already seeing the capability of the system to provide concrete information in the long term.”

And with BC’s mandatory organic regulation taking effect, the project proved especially timely for the many producers and processors now required to verify their products have accredited organic certification.

For the COABC, ensuring that the increasing numbers of transitional organic operators can access a supportive and user-friendly platform was a top priority, especially given the unfamiliarity and discomfort many farmers feel with online navigation.

To address the technology challenge and ease the transition, the COABC developed user guides and supplementary how-to videos to assist new entrants and have also trained their own staff to offer tech support via phone and email. And to ensure users without access to internet or computers are not excluded, certifying bodies will continue to offer a non-digital alternative until applicants are familiar with the new tool. (For those who simply need to renew their certification, Gamble promises the initial data recorded will re-populate in subsequent years to considerably expedite the renewal process.)

So far feedback from stakeholders across the sector has been largely positive, and the COABC continues to offer training sessions when necessary to ensure a smooth transition for those coming onboard.

In addition to simplifying the application process and enhancing data collection, Gamble is delighted to see numerous other benefits unfolding because of the project, including increased collaboration and communication within the sector and a clearer understanding of the role and benefits the COABC brings to the sector.  

“As we shift into a high-tech future, tools like this are vital to the success and sustainability of the organic sector, and we are confident the system will see widespread adoption and sustained use,” she predicts.

Funding: $117,568 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (A0818)

Hoof Health Pilot Paves Way for Dairy Cattle Welfare

As any dairy farmer knows, lameness is the most economically significant herd health and animal welfare issue facing producers. What is often less obvious is that hoof lesions are the culprit behind over 95 percent of lameness cases.

According to Trevor Hargreaves, Director of Producer Relations and Communications with the BC Dairy Association (BCDA), the lack of industry awareness has long contributed to this persistent problem.

“Lameness is commonly underestimated on dairy farms,” he explains. “A recent study on Alberta dairy herds revealed that while farmers estimate an eight percent proportion of lameness, the actual rate was confirmed to be closer to 20 percent.”

After a similar assessment on 75 BC dairies revealed the majority were substantially affected by lameness, the BCDA decided to introduce the industry to the ‘Dutch 5-Step Method of Hoof Trimming,’ an internationally recognized technique that requires specialized training and on-going support.

For Trevor and other stakeholders, the pilot was critical to filling the gap of in-depth courses available in BC.

“Despite many years of practical experience, BC’s professional hoof trimmers do not have a certification program in place to ensure a high level of consistency in the way they trim hooves,” says Trevor, citing the wide variations in technical knowledge and expertise in hoof lesion identification, trimming techniques and competence levels even amongst professional trimmers.

Thanks to federal and provincial funding, the BCDA was able to offer a series of hoof trimming clinics led by the Western Canadian Certified Hoof Trimmers Association to almost 70 dairy producers and farm employees throughout BC.

In addition to learning to correctly identify infectious and non-infectious claw lesions and risk factors, participants like Bruce Froese received hands-on training to trim and balance a cadaver foot as well as instruction on trimming tools and restraint systems available to safely trim feet.

As a result, Bruce was able to obtain his Certification for Hoof Trimming Proficiency, recognized worldwide, and now offers a new level of assurance to his customers at Greenleaf Hoof Care in Chilliwack.

“Improving the health, recovery and longevity of the herd very quickly covers the relatively minor costs of training and equipment investment on farm,” promises Bruce.

Course reviews from other participants were similarly positive, affirming greater confidence with both the theoretical and technical knowledge required to detect, treat and prevent lameness.

As industry adoption of the Dutch method grows and cases of hoof lesions and lameness begin to decline, Trevor expects the benefits to herd health and profitability will help shift the entire industry closer to its long-term goals.

“This is the first step in moving BC hoof trimmers towards a standardized system and elevating the competency level of trimmers province-wide,” he asserts, noting that animal welfare is one of six management pillars of the Dairy Farmers of Canada’s new proAction Initiative.

Funding: $7,273 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net Fund. (A0838)

Special thanks to Tom Droppo, Dairy Industry Specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture for his tireless oversight and support of this project.

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)

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)

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)

Sweet Tweet

Fresh may be best, but when it comes to strawberries, harvest time brings considerable challenges for growers.

In BC, the strawberry harvest lasts for only four weeks, giving growers a very small window of time to move millions of pounds of berries.

By the time the consumer is aware of their availability, the season is almost over, leaving producers who don’t pre-arrange sales with the potential for a spoilt berry surplus and financial losses.

For the Fraser Valley Strawberry Growers Association, keeping producers and consumers connected during the critical harvest time was a job for social media.

With help from IAF, the Association got together with local growers to demonstrate various social media applications. Through tools such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs, producers are now able to access an enormous consumer base and provide continual updates about the strawberry harvest on their farms.

Now the only problem that an abundance of fresh strawberries presents is what recipe to try!

Funding: $7,750 allocated through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (SP170)

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)

Improving Irrigation Uniformity

With no hands up, they knew something needed to be done.

At the August 2009 Cranberry field day, cranberry growers learned about the importance of irrigation uniformity from consultant Steve McCoon of Nelson Irrigation in Walla Walla, Washginton. During the presentation, he asked for a show of hands on how many growers had ever checked their irrigation system for uniformity or measured their sprinkler nozzles for wear.

Cranberry growers rely on irrigation more than most other farmers in BC. Utilized as a distribution mechanism to control pests and diseases, irrigation is also a frost protection tool.

Noting little response to the US expert, the BC Cranberry Marketing Commission asked Mike Wallis P.Ag to lead a survey of irrigation systems on a variety of cranberry fields in BC to not only describe the types of systems used and their age, but also to test for irrigation uniformity and measure nozzles for wear.

Twelve different cranberry farms, representing a diverse range of irrigation systems, were surveyed in Pitt Meadows, Langley, Richmond, Delta and Vancouver Island, The age of the irrigation systems varied from nearly new to 20 years old and field sizes ranged from 2 to 20 acres. Catch cans were used to measure uniformity and a pressure gauge fitted with a pita tube was used to measure sprinkler nozzle pressure.

“We were very encouraged to observe that 86% of the farms surveyed were designed with tail water recovery. This increases the farm’s water use efficiency and reduces their environmental footprint.” observed Wallis. “However, 28% of the survey group water distribution systems required attention to bring uniformity levels to recommended guidelines, so we have some room for improvement.”

Cranberry farmers use the services of certified irrigation designers to design solid set irrigation systems that have a high coefficient of uniformity. The key to keeping that uniformity relies on regular inspection and maintenance. By performing two additional simple, non-technical tests, growers can retain or even improve the performance of their irrigation systems.

“Checking distribution and measuring nozzles is part of our routine now,“ notes grower Allen May of Columbia Cranberry in Richmond, BC. “This project was a real eye opener.”

Funding: $7,805 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Nets framework. (S0002)

Adapting to Climate Change

When it comes to adapting to one’s environment, you can’t beat a farmer. Climate change, however, and its potential impact on food production, presents an unprecedented assortment of challenges.

This is why IAF felt it was important to support the BC Agriculture Council (BCAC) in assessing the risks and opportunities that climate change could pose for BC’s agricultural sector.

Thanks to the input provided by producers across the province, a series of reports are now available which highlight potential climate change impacts for BC agriculture at a regional and commodity specific level, as well as possible approaches to support adaptation efforts.

Among other challenges, producers could contend with an increase of extreme precipitation events in spring and fall, more extended dry periods in the summer, and associated shifts in stream flow and water supply. Difficulty managing pest, disease and invasive plant outbreaks is also a concern, given possible shifts in their range, distribution and survival rates.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome, however, is raising awareness of these potential risks.

“It’s a common misconception that climate change just means warmer and more favourable conditions for food production in BC,” says Allen James, Chair of BCAC’s Climate Action Initiative, “but the projected changes would create a more complex and challenging environment for BC’s agricultural producers.”

So will BC be prepared for these challenges?

“We’re on the right path,” according to Emily MacNair, Coordinator of the Climate Action Initiative. Managing climate change impacts to BC’s food system will involve decisions, infrastructure and resources that “go well beyond the farm gate.”

“Adapting to climate change is a collective challenge,” MacNair observes. “Planning and collaboration are needed in our communities and the province as a whole.”

Despite their awareness of the potential risks facing agricultural producers, both MacNair and James remain confident about the sector’s ability to adapt and thrive.

“The assessment has provided a critical foundation to help enhance BC agriculture in a changing climate,” James emphasizes. “Successful adaptation depends on the participation and leadership of the industry, and BC agriculture is well positioned to assume this role.”

For more information on the BC Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation Risk & Opportunity Assessment please visit:

Funding: $72,114 provided through the former federal-provincial Safety Net framework and Sustaining Fund. (A0630)

Recent Comments