B.C. disasters, extreme weather show need for climate-resilient agriculture
Wildfires, sweltering heat and extensive flooding in British Columbia last year have underscored the importance of strengthening the agricultural sector's resilience to the effects of climate change and extreme weather, experts say.
“We should be building the infrastructure for the next 30 years, starting yesterday,” said Sean Smukler, chair of agriculture and environment at the University of British Columbia.
B.C. is “ahead of the curve” in Canada, he said, pointing to the government-funded Climate & Agriculture Initiative launched in 2013. It has developed eight regional adaptation plans along with climate-related resources for the sector, while supporting research at the farm level.
Still, the province's adaptation efforts have been incremental when they should be urgent, said Smukler,who's also the principal investigator at the university's Sustainable Agricultural Landscapes Lab.
He said funding is needed to match the scale of the challenge.
“We have to get going now or else we're just going to be in a reactionary mode constantly, and reactionary mode is going to be so costly, much more costly than if we were being proactive and planning out a viable future,” he said.
The second half of 2021 in B.C. offers a snapshot of potential costs.
Severe drought and destructive wildfires last summer prompted the B.C. and federal governments to allocate $20 million to help farmers and ranchers recover, while a summer heat dome scorched berry crops in the same prime agricultural area in the Fraser Valley that was devastated by floodwaters in November.
Dozens of blueberry and raspberry producers were affected, about 4,000 tonnes of stored and unharvested field vegetables were lost and an estimated 628,000 chickens, 420 cattle and 12,000 hogs died, provincial officials said at the time.
B.C. has so far provided $3.7 million in emergency funding to help farmers secure hay and forage for their animals along with $2.7 million to help dairy, poultry and pork producers avoid added expenses of feed delivery.
The province is working with the federal government to develop a “comprehensive financial support package” for farmers affected by flooding, with an announcement expected in the coming weeks, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.
Such extreme events are not the only threats to agriculture, said Emily MacNair, director of the Climate & Agriculture Initiative.
The province has yet to confront the challenge of ensuring there's enough water for food production over the longer or even the nearer term, she said in an interview.
The agricultural sector is one group of water users among many as communities across B.C. grow, she said, and droughts are worsening with climate change.
It's going to get drier, so it's logical to consider how to store excess water from spring freshets or heavy precipitation in the fall and winter, MacNair said.
B.C. is home to a high proportion of small, family-owned farms that produce a wide range of products, she noted.
Such diversity offers opportunities, she said, since smaller farms may be more nimble in experimenting with new methods or technologies to support resiliency, but they may also have limited financial capacity, time and other resources required to implement costly solutions.
Building a more climate-resilient agricultural sector also requires addressing broader issues in landscape management that affect agricultural operations, in addition to adaptation efforts at the farm level, MacNair said.
Logging and wildfires, for example, have affected the landscape's ability to store and regulate water, said Andrew Bennett, an irrigation designer who owns a small farm in Rossland, B.C., and works with the Kootenay & Boundary Farm Advisors.
The forest canopy provides shade, slows the springtime melt, and healthy trees prevent soils from eroding; rain and melting snow run more quickly off burned or logged slopes, leaving little water left come summertime, Bennett explained.
“We need to have mountain slopes that are treed, with deep soils, to hold water so it trickles out all season long.”
Soil is key to managing water, said Bennett, who works with his local municipality and wildfire prevention groups to divert wood waste that's usually burned or taken to the dump into soil to boost its organic content, a process called hugelkultur.
Logs break down much slower than chipped wood, keeping carbon stored for longer and acting as a sponge to increase the soil's capacity to store water, he said.
Much of Bennett's work with the Kootenay & Boundary Farm Advisors involves helping farmers improve the quality and capacity of their soils to increase yields and strengthen resilienceas the climate changes, he said.
The group also works with farmers to improve their irrigation systems and use water more effectively, but Bennett said they need more support.
Some are holding down other jobs just to pay for the farm itself, he added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2022.
Vancouver Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
Students trapped inside a classroom with a gunman repeatedly called 911 during this week's attack on a Texas elementary school, including one who pleaded, 'Please send the police now,' as nearly 20 officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes, authorities said Friday.
As Johnny Depp's high-profile libel lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard wound down, Heard took her final opportunity on the stand to comment on the hate and backlash she’s endured online during the trial.
A new report says Ottawa, Vancouver and Toronto rank among the top 20 cities around the world when it comes to work-life balance.
Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino will table new firearms legislation on Monday, according to his colleague Justice Minister David Lametti. In an interview with CTV's Question Period that will air on Sunday, Lametti pointed to the advance notice given to the House of Commons, and confirmed the plan is to see the new bill unveiled shortly after MPs return to the Commons on May 30.
An 11-year-old survivor of the Robb Elementary School massacre in Uvalde, Texas, feared the gunman would come back for her so she smeared herself in her friend's blood and played dead.
For 70 years, Andre Hissink has held a grudge against the Dutch government, but this week, the 102-year-old Second World War veteran’s persistence paid off – the Dutch king granted his wish for a rare dual citizenship.
Canada has tapped into its own strategic stockpile of emergency medical supplies -- stored for a national emergency -- to help Ukraine. It has donated over 375,000 items of medical equipment and medicines from Canada's strategic stockpile since the invasion by Russia began.
Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as 'broken heart syndrome' or stress-induced cardiomyopathy, is an actual medical condition triggered by severe emotional or physical stress and is different from a heart attack.
After a six-week trial in which Johnny Depp and Amber Heard tore into each other over the nasty details of their short marriage, both sides told a jury the exact same thing Friday -- they want their lives back.
B.C. speedboat driver arrested with 650kg of meth 'feared for his family's safety,' he told U.S. investigators
New details are emerging after a 51-year-old Alberta man was arrested aboard a speedboat that U.S. authorities say was carrying 650 kilograms of methamphetamine between Washington state and British Columbia.
DEVELOPING | Mill Bay mall fire closes Trans-Canada Highway
At least one building was destroyed Friday afternoon as firefighters rushed to a large fire at the vacant Pioneer Square Mall in Mill Bay, B.C.
West Shore RCMP are on the lookout for a missing dog that was inside of a truck when it was stolen from the Langford area on Thursday morning.
Calgary Flames fans are still coming to terms with a playoff series loss to the Edmonton Oilers Thursday night in a game that saw both controversy and heartbreak following a Connor McDavid overtime goal.
Alberta Parks has closed a section of Fish Creek Provincial Park in the city's southeast after aggressive coyotes attacked a dog and its owner.
RCMP are investigating the circumstances of a two-vehicle crash on Highway 1 on Friday.
A 19-year-old man is in police custody after a shooting near Rogers Place after an Edmonton Oilers viewing party ended Thursday evening.
Ground was officially broken on Edmonton's Valley Line West LRT route on Friday.
The city is looking at ways to get outdoor pools open earlier after feedback from Edmontonians that they’re opening too late in the season.
Police have released a video showing the arrest of two suspects who allegedly stole a Mercedes – the latest in a string of armed vehicle thefts that has prompted police services in the Greater Toronto Area to create a carjacking task force.
Toronto Pearson International is warning travellers and Mississauga residents they may notice unusual activity at the airport this weekend.
New video has emerged showing the moment a tornado touched down in Uxbridge, Ont. over the weekend, ripping the roof off a local brewery.
Canada's highest court has ruled that Alexandre Bissonnette, who murdered six people at the Quebec City mosque in 2017, will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Is it unconstitutional to make someone pay to get a legal document translated into French? One of Montreal's top lawyers thinks so, and pointed out two other things from Bill 96 that he thinks the courts would most easily find fault with.
Hydro-Quebec is still struggling to restore power to tens of thousands of homes left without electricity, six days after deadly storms hit in Quebec and Ontario.
Winnipeg police are telling people to find an alternate route this afternoon as they are investigating a fatal crash near the St. Boniface Industrial Park.
Fifty-eight-year-old Vivian Ketchum is set to receive her high school diploma at a graduation ceremony at the University of Winnipeg next month. It is a moment that is decades in the making.
Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson is hinting at an increase in the minimum wage.
'We will have to deal with the issues': Saskatoon condo residents at odds with city over public washroom plan
Outcry over the planned location of public washrooms caused Tuesday's city council meeting to stretch late into the evening.
A pedestrian injured by a vehicle in Prince Albert has died.
Saskatchewan Roughriders rookie Nelson Lokombo is ready to return to the football field after missing the entire 2021 season with an achilles injury.
Premiers from western Canada met to discuss healthcare in their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years in Regina on Friday at the 2022 Western Premiers' Conference.
A Regina family facing homelessness will not be evicted from their government-owned rental unit after it was discovered they owed more than $1,000 in back rent.
An alleged mail theft and identity fraud has resulted in more than 100 charges for a 42-year-old Edmonton man, according to the Regina Police Service (RPS).
A lawyer for families of victims killed in the Nova Scotia mass shooting says an 18-hour delay in finding five bodies of those murdered is a sign of "deficient" policing.
A Cape Breton father is warning the public of the dangers in the area he lives after his teenager son fell nearly 40 feet over a cliff in Glace Bay.
The lawyer who represented a man who murdered three RCMP officers nearly eight years ago in Moncton, N.B., said a decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada Friday may potentially change his sentence.
The London Police Service is requesting the public’s help with locating a person of interest after a gun was fired on Richmond Row in the early morning hours of Friday.
A London man is facing impaired-related charges after a vehicle he was driving collided with a gravel truck on Wednesday morning, according to police.
Pat Clifford is the engine that keeps the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Goderich, Ont. running — and it’s for those reasons the soon-to-be 75-year-old has earned the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.
Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum (CIM) has honoured two people from Sudbury for their rescue efforts during last year's rescue at Totten Mine.
A 54-year-old man is facing several charges in Sudbury, including sexual assault, following an investigation triggered by reports someone was trying to traffic a victim under the age of 16.
There’s an increased police presence around four Toronto schools this morning after a 27-year-old man walking the nearby streets with an air rifle was shot dead by police on Thursday.
A man, who was a referee at high school volleyball games in Guelph for more than 30 years, is facing sex assault-related charges.
The Region of Waterloo says there's a high safety risk at a Kitchener encampment and they are working with residents to prepare them for their eventual move.
The Queen Victoria statue in downtown Kitchener is once again clean after it was splashed with red paint earlier this week.