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Vol. 106 No. 5
The agricultural news source in British Columbia since 1915 MAY 2020 | Vol. 106 No. 5
APIARISTS
Beekeepers stung about import issues 9
DAIRY
COVID-19 leads to oversupply of dairy
13
FRUIT
Co-op considers four-way fix at crossroads
17
by PETER MITHAM
WILLIAMS LAKE – High
temperatures prompted the
rapid melt of above-average
snowpacks in the upper and
middle Fraser basins in mid-
April, delivering high
streamows to the Cariboo.
Several ranches were hit
with water and had to
relocate equipment and
livestock as this issue went to
press, but Cariboo Regional
District spokesperson Chris
Keam was unable to say more.
“Its simply too early to tell,
he said. There are denitely
ranches and farms that have
water on their property as a
result of ooding or spring
freshet, but we wouldn’t have
a total number of hectares
impacted or anything like that
yet.
City sta in Williams Lake
reported ooding unseen in
living memory, estimating
that ows were in the 150 to
200-year range.
BC Ministry of Agriculture
sta said ooding had largely
impacted access to ranches
and cattle, inundated elds of
forage and damaged
infrastructure such as fences.
The ministry has yet to
receive any specic requests
for assistance with relocating
or caring for livestock, the
ministry added, noting that a
sta member was in the
Cariboo, Chilcotin, and Prince
George emergency
operations centres to assist
producers.
The province has poured a
great deal of resources into
mitigating ood risks since
the disastrous 2017 season,
which was followed by
equally devastating wildres.
A new tasting room and shiny new tanks at Forbidden Spirits in Kelowna risked sitting idle last month when the province limited gatherings to
ght COVID-19. Instead, co-founder and CEO Blair Wilson joined a number of alcohol producers province-wide that began producing industrial-
strength alcohol for much-needed sanitizer during the pandemic. Wilson still hopes to make good on Forbidden Spirits’ rst overseas shipments of
apple vodka when the pandemic ends. Read Myrna Stark Leader’s story on page 37.
PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
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Worker
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in focus
Orchards step up
by PETER MITHAM
OLIVER – With foreign and
domestic workers starting to
arrive in the Okanagan for
another season, growers are
grappling with provincial
health guidelines designed to
limit the spread of COVID-19.
“Its going to start the rst
week of May for grapes, doing
some shoot-thinning in
vineyards, says Ron Forrest,
the BC Fruit Growers
Association liaison who
connects domestic workers,
including hundreds of
Quebec youth, with local
growers each summer.
“People should start coming
in between the rst week of
May and the third week of
May.
Given this year’s
anticipated labour shortage,
he was on the ground by mid-
See COVID-19 on next page
o
Rapid response
COVID-19 puts wrinkle in farm labour nfrom page 1
FLOODING nfrom page 1
A combination of factors is
usually needed to deliver a
disastrous ooding: a high
snowpack, high temperatures
and rain.
A snowpack will, ideally,
melt slowly, providing
moisture through the
growing season. A warm
spring will accelerate the melt.
When both snowpack and
temperatures are above
average, ood risk is, too.
With the provincial
snowpack at 111% of normal
at the beginning of March,
and 135% of normal in the
upper Fraser region,
producers considered there
to be a clear risk of flooding.
With much of the local
landscape scarred by fire and
water-holding capacity
diminished, the potential for
run-off was that much
higher.
April, scouting out local
campsites – legal and illegal –
for workers. While the workers
will be in high demand this
year, the communities where
they work have also voiced
concerns about the seasonal
inux.
Several local mayors and
the South Okanagan
Chamber of Commerce have
all expressed fears regarding
domestic migrants. Some
residents worry they could
incubate disease in their
encampments and facilitate
the spread of COVID-19 in the
Okanagan.
While several provinces
require new arrivals to self-
isolate for 14 days, even if
arriving from within Canada,
BC has opted for a far more
liberal regime. It has so far
rejected the implementation
of checkpoints or travel
restrictions within the
province.
However, Quebec, which
has the highest rate of known
infections in the country, has
stringent regulations on the
movement of people.
“Such travel should be
conned to trips for medical
reasons and work when
teleworking is not possible,
Quebec regulations state. “In
order to protect the most
vulnerable populations,
checkpoints will be
established to limit travel into
and out of certain territories.
Restrictions wanted
Growers are working to
address the concerns. A key
element is the Loose Bay
Campground on Secrest Road
in Oliver, which typically sees
about 300 workers living
there during the summer.
Cherry grower Greg Norton
was instrumental in its
development and fellow
grower and friend Allan
Patton chairs the Loose Bay
Campground Society, which
runs it. The Regional District
of Okanagan-Similkameen
designated it a campground
for seasonal workers in 2017.
Campers pay $5 a day or $30
a week.
“Most places don’t really
have any accommodations,
especially down south, says
Forrest. “One of the most
important things that we
have to do is get Loose Bay
going.
Several upgrades have
improved servicing at the
campground and more are
planned this summer to
ensure campers respect
public health orders when it
opens on May 1.
Were going to try to add
WiFi and washing machines
so people don’t have the
need to go down to town that
often, says Forrest.
Local ocials say Loose Bay
residents will be treated as a
single group.
Training required
Provincial regulations
governing farm workers
during the pandemic were
nalized on April 6. Workers
must receive training on
COVID-19 protocols prior to
beginning work, including
sanitization. The rules require
employers ensure adequate
distancing on the job,
including during breaks,
access to handwashing
stations and sanitizer, and
recommend providing every
worker with a personal
picking bucket or whatever
tools they need.
Where it is not possible to
provide personal tools, the
shared tools and equipment
must be wiped down and
cleaned with a disinfecting
agent such as disposable
wipes or a diluted bleach
solution between uses by
dierent employees, the rules
state.
“If you share a ladder,
you’ve got to be able to wash
a ladder, says Forrest, noting
that the boxes workers ll
with fruit are another
conundrum. They ll it up,
and then one person takes it
in their hands and takes it to
the tractor. How are we going
to do this? Are we going to
have to sanitize them before?
After? These are all things that
we’re going to have to gure
out.
To support on-farm
measures, AgSafe BC recently
made COVID-19 workplace
safety materials available on
its website. These include
prevention procedures, an
exposure control plan and
employer protocols for a
pandemic. Safety notices for
workers and signage is also
available.
Providers of essential
services are protected by
provincial order from liability
in the event workers, by their
own “gross negligence,
become infected.
However, BCFGA warns
growers to expect lower
productivity this year as a
result of public health rules.
“Planning for lower
production may be prudent,
it advised members,
encouraging them to avoid
sinking too much eort into
their least-protable blocks.
“On the other hand, it is
expected that with reduced
supply, produce prices will be
increasing.
The extra cash could come
in handy, as strict guidelines
governing foreign workers
have upped the cost of that
option for growers this year.
Charter ights from Mexico to
Vancouver, including transfer
to the Okanagan, is expected
to be upwards of $1,200 per
worker. An initial ight of 157
workers landed at Vancouver
on April 16, and the province
expected up to 1,000 workers
by April 30. An additional
3,000 were expected to
follow. All told, the province
welcomes about 10,000
foreign farm workers each
year.
The province is covering
the cost of housing and meals
for incoming foreign workers
during the 14-day isolation
period required arrival.
Ottawa is also providing
employers with $1,500 per
worker to cover other costs,
including the $900 in wages
owing during the quarantine
period.
Delays in the arrival of
those workers may mean
some tasks go unlled, while
some workers may opt not to
come during the pandemic.
Another slice of the local
workforce – students on
working holiday visas – have
been shut out by border
closures. They typically
account for about 15% of
orchard workers.
“I think were not going to
have enough people, says
Forrest. “One thing were
looking at is, hopefully, some
locals. Thats what we would
like to have.
While farm work would be
a steep learning curve for
people who might be used to
working at local hotels and
restaurants, the opportunities
exist.
When I rst came to the
Okanagan, I would be picking
beside locals, says Forrest.
This year, I’m thinking theres
no jobs at McDonald’s or
anything, so hopefully we can
get a few of them to come
and help us.
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Foreign labour an
essential service
for fruit growers
A steady work ethic gives
growers confidence
Alan Gatzke depends on foreign workers at his Okanagan orchard. PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
by MYRNA STARK LEADER
OYAMA – With cases of
COVID-19 continuing to rise
and more Canadians working
reduced hours or
experiencing layo and
unemployment, one
Okanagan orchardist says the
public needs to understand
the valuable role foreign
workers play in local
agriculture.
Gatzke Orchards in Oyama
employs about 35 people
annually to tend 25 acres of
gardens and orchards that
support its agri-tourism
operation. The farms main
sales channels are a fruit
stand opened in 1942 and an
on-farm farm bakery. These
are complemented by a
restaurant as well as electric
bike rentals and an import
clothing shop, which also
operate on the property.
For 20 years, owner Alan
Gatzke has depended on
foreign workers as the key
source of sta. He typically
hires people with one- or two-
year international work visas.
However, in 2019, he enrolled
in the federal Temporary
Foreign Worker Program.
When I’m seeing posts
and comments on social
media about temporary
foreign workers, I’m sensing a
social backlash toward them
that could really hurt
agriculture, says Gatzke.
Gatzke says many farms
apply for permission to hire
foreign labour in the fall.
Producers must advertise for
positions locally, but when
domestic workers don’t apply
Ottawa approves the
application to hire foreign
workers.
The fact is that most
people don’t want to get up
at 3 am to be ready to pick
cherries or other fruit starting
at 4 or 4:30 am, he says.
When he posted jobs prior
to applying for foreign
workers for this season, he
had just two applications
prior to January from locals
willing to work as unskilled
labour.
But with many people
facing the loss of work in the
face of the COVID-19
pandemic, theres been
renewed interest from locals
in getting paid $15 an hour to
work as unskilled labourers.
Gatzke has received about
100 applications from locals in
recent weeks. It’s
encouraging. Hes grateful
and is reviewing each
application. Hes already hired
a former hairdresser to work
in the orchard.
Risky business
But hes also aware of the
risks. Domestic workers can
and will leave when they nd
better-paying work, unlike
foreign workers who are
restricted to the jobs they’ve
been hired to do, either on
their original farm or via
transfer to another. (A
potential shortage in foreign
workers this year due to travel
restrictions means Gatzke and
a couple of his neighbours are
already discussing plans to
share workers this season.)
Gatzke also wants to bust
the idea that foreign workers
provide cheap labour. Thats
not the case, especially this
year.
“If a temporary foreign
worker and a Canadian were
working for the same wage,
the farmer hasn’t cut corners
by hiring the non-Canadian,
he explains. Theyre actually
paying more when you factor
in the cost of the ights,
medical insurance,
administrative costs to ensure
proper documentation, plus
the cost of establishing and
inspecting accommodations
we are required to provide.
Right now, Gatzkes
workers, who arrived from
Germany, are living in four of
the rental cabins on his
orchard land. Three have
completed self-isolation and
the fourth is in the process.
None are ill or have been ill.
He estimates TFW
administration and ights
cost $2,500 to $3,000 per
worker before any work has
been done. Even so, with
production costs for the
orchards running about
$7,000 an acre, he says
foreign workers give him
condence and certainty
knowing he will have people
to harvest fruit.
This certainty enables me
to invest in my crop and
decide what kind of crop we
prune for, how much I spend
on inputs like sprays and
fertilizer. The public might not
understand how much
money producers invest
during the growing season in
hopes of producing a crop at
the end that will be
marketable, says Gatzke.
The marketability of fruit
will be key this year, as
international markets will be
more competitive as trade is
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likely to be hit hard by
restrictions designed to curb
the spread of COVID-19. While
trade in agricultural products
isn’t supposed to be aected,
the shutdown China imposed
to contain the virus cost
Chilean growers hundreds of
millions in sales.
Gatzke is optimistic,
however.
We learn most when we
struggle. Catastrophe causes
innovation, Gatzke says.
He hopes that producers,
especially those selling direct,
will pursue opportunities
among local consumers. Hes
working on how to create a
drive-though market so
customers feel safe
interacting with his sta. He
also sees opportunities to
increase collaboration
between farmers and cross-
sector partnerships like
working with restaurants that
are oering take-out to make
deliveries.
These partnerships could
have been forged before but
maybe we weren’t motivated
enough to pursue them, he
says. This is an important
time where I think partnering
with like businesses will pay
dividends to those who do
this. Banding together with
other neighbour producers,
for example the local winery,
might help everyone if we
can get product to our
customers or we can convince
them to come and see us.
COVID-19 will be a reality check for many
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The agricultural news source in British Columbia since 1915
Vol.106 No. 5 . MAY 2020
Published monthly by Country Life 2000 Ltd.
www.countrylifeinbc.com
Publisher Cathy Glover
604-328-3814 . publisher@countrylifeinbc.com
Editor Emeritus David Schmidt
Associate Editor Peter Mitham
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Keep your distance, PW!
Watershed moments
Spring has sprung, and as this issue goes to press, ranchers in the Cariboo
were dealing with ooding. Since 2017, farmers across the province have
become all too familiar with how a rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats.
Sometimes, it sweeps them away. Here in mountainous BC, watersheds are
probably a better metaphor, dividing the landscape into the fertile 5% of the
province suitable for agriculture from everything else.
The past month has seen the province – and indeed the world – reach
something of a watershed moment, a great divide between the economic
growth of the past decade and the great hiatus of 2020. A post thats captured
peoples imaginations on social media has challenged us, as we step back from
our regular activities, to ask what kind of world we want to live in when regular
activities resume. We have a chance to reset and reorder our priorities, to choose
a new direction.
We can choose how we get produce to market and how we reach consumers.
Many growers are turning to online sales for the rst time, just as many
consumers are signing on to order groceries online. The trend to buying local –
which found its feet when the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington put
the world on edge – is now supercharged. People are no longer content to buy
local, they’re growing local. Seed sales have surged and our mills can’t keep up
with the demand from homebakers. Theyre quite literally taking local into their
own hands.
There will be losers, however. While larger retailers that oer one-stop
shopping are doing well, many smaller shops are shuttered. Restaurants face a
tough go. “Every Farmer Needs a Chef, as the name of the provinces annual
marketing and networking event puts it, but theres likely to be fewer restaurants
open this year. This has many farmers wondering how much to plant.
The challenge comes as many veterans of the industry leave the stage. A
wave of retirements has seen several provincial specialists step down this spring,
meaning younger sta now face the tough work of guiding producers through
the recovery process. Country Life in BC’s editor emeritus, David Schmidt, has
seen the crisis as a chance to embrace retirement more fully, and his grasp of the
4 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
The emergence and spread of COVID-19 will etch
the spring of 2020 into the memories of most of
humankind. Many of todays children will still have
vivid recollections of it at the end of this century.
Exactly
what those
memories
will be is
still up in
the air. The
year
schools
closed in March and everyone stayed home, at the
very least, but perhaps the year that changed
everything.
Some things on our farm didn’t change at all.
Spring came, frogs sang, birds nested, cows calved,
and the long stretch of sunny April days and maple
blossoms made for a lot of furious activity in the
bee yard.
All the usual eld work came and went but there
was some second-guessing about crop plans.
Pumpkins are our major eld crop and we sell
most of them to customers who come to take a
wagon ride and pick their own. Its not an activity
that lends itself to social distancing and just how
many people will come – or if they will even be
allowed to – is anyone’s guess at this point.
We decided to hedge our bets and expand our
repertoire.
That decision led to another challenge: large
numbers of people suddenly stuck at home with
time on their hands and an uncertain future
decided it might be prudent to plant a garden. They
ordered seeds online, in amounts that swamped
seed companies. In late March, Stokes Seeds closed
its website in response to “the recent
unprecedented surge in orders from home
gardeners, and asked, “Please do not call our
customer service with questions or orders unless
you are a commercial vegetable grower.
In early April, West Coast Seeds informed
customers there was such a backlog, shipping was
anticipated to take 30 to 45 days and a daily limit
was being placed on new orders.
Unplowed ground
Gardening is unplowed ground for many new
home gardeners. At the very least, the experience
should give them some insight and appreciation for
the eort it takes.
The sudden surge in on-farm beef sales is a sure
sign people are seeking a more direct connection
from the eld to their fridge. Hopefully, these
connections will endure and become part of the
new normal in the post-COVID-19 landscape.
Regardless of what that normal is, agriculture will be
a given and while the details might change, the
outcome is indispensable.
That won’t be the case for other sectors of the
economy. Despite rosy predictions of rapid economic
rebirth, a slow and wary recovery seem more likely.
It is hard to imagine there won’t be some serious
second guessing about the notion of loading on to
a cruise ship right away. The same for big sports
events, tourism in general, or even public transit.
Widespread access to a vaccine is said to be two
years away and until then, COVID-19 will constantly
threaten to emerge.
As nations struggle to curb the virus, conspiracy
theories and outright quackery are running
rampant.
The US, Russia, China, Bill Gates, Disney Plus,
Netix, 5G transmissions, and outer space (among
others) have all been blamed for concocting and/or
spreading COVID-19: Bill Gates because he wants to
take over health care in the US, Disney and Netix
because sick people will stay home and watch their
channels, the US, Russia, and China for any sinister
reason you care to dream up, 5G because it will
destroy your brain and deprive you of your
freedoms, and outer space because no credible list
of conspiracy theories would be complete without
it.
In the same vein, if you can hold your breath for
10 seconds you do not have COVID-19. If you don’t
pass the 10 second test, you might eat garlic, snort
cocaine, drink cow urine or inject Lysol (presumably
not all at the same time) and be cured. Feel free to
substitute whiskey and honey for the beverage
selection.
Conspiracies and cures notwithstanding, all
plausible analysis and advice suggest we will be
dealing with COVID-19 for some time to come.
People will come to realize there are many things
they can do without when the chips are down.
Food isn’t one of them.
Bob Collins raises beef cattle and grows produce on
his farm in the Alberni Valley.
The Back Forty
BOB COLLINS
industry will be missed as we continue to cover agriculture in BC.
The future is uncharted territory, and always is. But the watershed we’ve
entered holds opportunities. It will be months before we fully understand how
to harness them. The fact we’re doing so is hope for the future.
Register now, question later to keep water rights
Questions and myths abound, but like it or not a new water regime is here
Government will work with
you to determine the right
quantity. The main thing is to
apply first; the details can be
ironed out later.
Some farmers fear that
they’ll be denied a licence
because the local stream is
short of water every summer.
However, transitioning
existing groundwater users
should be just that –
transitioning them into the
water rights scheme. An
existing well will have priority
over new wells or new
applications to use surface
water. (The conditions for
using water during a drought
will be specified in the licence
– a benefit of securing a
licence – or ordered by the
government at the time of
drought.)
The challenges of
implementing the new
system have also raised
genuine concerns among
well owners. Applications for
existing groundwater use
have not been given the
highest priority because staff
may feel that existing
groundwater users can
continue to pump until a
decision is made. In addition,
other factors affecting the
length of time for decisions in
the past few years include:
capacity to hire, train and
retain staff;
lack of communication to
applicants about the
reasons for the wait times;
and
lack of strategic direction to
staff to grant licences to
existing users.
Even so, by applying for a
licence before the March 1,
2022 deadline, existing
groundwater users have done
their part. It doesn’t matter if
government takes 10 years to
decide, most existing users
should get a licence for the
right quantity with a priority
date dating back to date of
first use.
Moreover, licencing fees
will be retroactive to 2016,
when the new system came
into place, meaning theres a
financial incentive to figure
out how much is owing, and
plan payment accordingly
(and claim the expense).
Well owners who don’t
obtain a licence and choose
to continue to draw water will
be doing so without
authorization and this will
eventually come to light. This
could happen if someone
files a complaint or if
government orders well
owners to stop pumping.
Additionally, when you want
to sell your
property,
buyers will
be looking
for a licence
to go with
the property.
If the
property
lacks water
rights in the
form of a
groundwater
licence, they may hesitate to
buy the property or offer a
significantly lower amount.
(Use of the land depends on
access to water.) Applying for
a licence now helps you
maintain your competitive
business advantage and
avoids headaches and
worries down the road.
Mike Wei is a hydrogeologist
retired from the BC Ministry of
Environment and Climate
Change Strategy. He helped
develop the Water
Sustainability Act, and now, as
a professional working in
private practice, works to help
water users understand water
rights in BC. His website is
[hydrogeo-logic.com/].
and irrigation water, only the
amount used for irrigation
requires a licence.
A water right, once
granted, does not typically
expire. The groundwater
licence becomes
part of the
property. When the
farmer or business
owner sells the
property, the new
owner also
acquires the water
right associated
with the property as well as
the well and other works
required to exercise that
right.
But how does government
know how much water a well
is drawing, and how much to
charge users?
The licence fee depends
on the amount of water used.
The rates are specific to each
industry and use. For
example, the irrigation rate is
the lowest at $0.85/1,000 m3
of water. Commercial uses,
including bottled water
companies such as Nestle,
and municipal water systems
pay a rate of $2.25/1,000 m3.
(This is the same fee structure
for surface water. And don’t
forget – the fees can be
claimed as a business
expense!)
The fee is charged based
on an estimate of annual use.
Determining the right
estimate sounds difficult, but
heres my thought: take your
best guess. For example, you
can refer to the examples the
province provides (see
[tinyurl.com/groundwater-
pricing]) and enter a quantity
into the application. Then
describe in your licence
application how you use the
water, for example: “My well is
my sole source of water. My
well supplies water to my
household and also water to
irrigate my quarter section of
hay. I typically irrigate from
mid-May to mid-September.
Four years after the Water
Sustainability Act introduced
groundwater licensing in BC,
and with a less than two
years to go in the latest
extension of the window in
which existing groundwater
users can obtain a licence
without paying an
application fee nor
undergoing expensive
assessments, there are still
plenty of fears, questions and
myths about the new system.
While the system is
straight-forward for new
users, many existing
groundwater users – those
who were drawing water
from wells prior to February
2016 when the new act came
into effect – continue to
wonder what the new system
means for them. Some see it
as government trying to take
away their existing water
rights; others worry that
they’ll be charged for
domestic water use.
The fact is, water is a public
resource. But until 2016, there
was no system in place to
manage that resource and
there were no groundwater
rights. BC was among the last
jurisdictions in North America
to introduce a system for
licensing and managing
groundwater use.
The new system
establishes a first-in-time,
first-in-right system that gives
existing well owners priority
over new users, which is why
it’s so important for existing
users to obtain a licence for
their groundwater use. A
licence authorizes well
owners to use the
groundwater they need to
operate their farms and
businesses.
Domestic or household
use does not require a
licence. For example, if your
well supplies both domestic
Viewpoint
by MIKE WEI
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 5
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6 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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Egg sales stable while chicken
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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 7
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by JACKIE PEARASE
VANCOUVER – Chicken
Farmers of Canada reduced
allocations across the country
on April 14 to better manage
fallout on the poultry sector
from COVID-19.
Retail chicken sales, which
represent 59% of the
Canadian chicken market,
rose 21% between March 8
and April 4 compared to the
same period in 2019.
This increase can be
attributed to consumers
eating more from home and
purchasing reserves, says BC
Chicken Marketing Board
executive director Bill
Vanderspek. We do not
expect such high increases to
continue as purchasing habits
stabilize.
The foodservice industry
accounts for 41% of chicken
used in Canada so its collapse
has delivered a blow to the
poultry sector.
The concern is that the
closure of restaurants will
have long-term eects.
“Even with poultry
processors channelling much
more to retail, the chicken
industry in Canada is in a
situation where supply is
exceeding demand, explains
Vanderspek. The impact is
greater in central/eastern
Canada than it is in the west,
likely because central
Canadian plants focus a
greater proportion of their
production on the
foodservice sector.
To deal with the imbalance,
CFC cut the allocation
originally set February 5 for
period A-163 (May 10 to July 4)
by 7.5% for BC, Alberta,
Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
and by 15% for Ontario,
Quebec and Atlantic
provinces.
BC Broiler Hatching Egg
Commission chair Jim Collins
says a 5% reduction of egg
sets in the west started on
April 6 to deal with an
impending over-supply.
But the timing of CFC’s
allocation reduction comes in
the middle of the eight-week
cycle for broilers, which
means egg sets will need to
be cut by 15% for the balance
of the cycle to reach the 7.5%
reduction required by CFC.
With some egg sets/chicks
already placed on farms to be
shipped for processing early
in period A-163, Collins
expects the timing to result in
chicken being overproduced
early in period A-163 and
underproduced later in the
cycle as numbers are ramped
down.
He is also concerned about
long-term eects of the
downturn on the poultry
sector.
“In certain sectors like the
processing, they’re being
driven into the ground trying
to manage this, he notes. “In
the hatching egg sector with
long-cycle ocks, we don’t
want to kill our ocks early to
cut production because once
you kill a ock it takes months
and months and months to
get back in production.
Collins says the BCBHEC is
working closely with chicken
growers and hatcheries to
best manage issues so
producers don’t take too
much of a nancial hit.
“Its a regulated sector; we
can manage our way through
it, he adds. “It hurts but at the
end of the day, we’ll come
back when the time is right;
but that’s probably going to
be a while.
CFC will look at allocation
for period A-164 (July-August)
on April 21.
Eggs good
The egg side of the poultry
sector, on the other hand, is
weathering the storm well.
BC Egg Marketing Board
executive director Katie Lowe
says the retail/restaurant
market for eggs has collapsed
but those eggs are now going
to peoples tables.
“Eggs are in good supply,
Lowe says. We have as many
eggs now as we had before
and they are being put to
good use by consumers,
which is fantastic.
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Social distancing
At Dave's Farm Fresh Fruits and Veggies in Keremeos, a no-contact money box let Beverly (right) pay for a
bag of local Ambrosia apples, helping keep staff, including Satpal (left), safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
8 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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Private wildlife paradise 640± acres fenced
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Five minute walk to the marina from this 5,000+
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Great view out the oor to ceiling windows from
the huge front room and upstairs sitting area. Lots
of wood, tile and granite features in this ageless
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Serene and pretty country setting offers
approx. 80 acres of gently rolling hayelds
with remaining acreage in grazing. 5 bedroom,
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hay barn and additional storage sheds.
Pond, seasonal creek, adjacent to Crown
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Picture perfect cattle ranch, horse facility &
recreational paradise. Private 50 acre private
lake, dock & rainbows to 6 lbs. 1,415 acres,
11 titles fenced & cross fenced. 2,000 ft
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325 acre in hay 550-600 tons / year, 175-200
cow / calf pairs. Tons of wildlife. $1,995,000
4,670 ft
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rancher style estate on 198 parklike,
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50% complete with solid timber frame const. &
massive 19 ft cedar beams. Copper roof, eves,
gutters & some window ashing. Extensive
work done on the property developing ponds,
creeks, elds & gardens. $989,000
This is fantastic opportunity for some ranchers
to get started or add to existing operations.
This 576 acre homestead offers a home,
outbuildings, hay production, grazing, timber
and a range permit. It also borders a private
8 acre lake. $800,000
Nicely updated 3 bdrm, 2 bath rancher on 40
acres in private setting off Highway 24. 15±
acre hay eld, workshop, hay & wood sheds.
Recently logged for more open spaces; some
fencing in place. Currently operating dog
grooming business. Many options for your
hobby farm. NEW PRICE $429,000
Goodlow, BC. 801 acres of highly productive
farmland & unlimited recreational / hunting
potential close to Fort St John. 4 contiguous
titles and is a combination of agricultural
elds, timber & creeks. Presently there are
540 acres under production. Elk, deer &
moose are in abundance. $749,000
Stunning private estate on 50 acres with
valley, ocean and Mount Baker views. 30
minutes from downtown Victoria. Main
home, caretaker / guest home, barn,
workshop & equipment storage. Turnkey,
meticulously maintained grounds and
improvements. NEW LISTING $4,350,000
One of the nicest parcels I have seen come
available in a decade! Land is mostly at &
treed with some nice open clearings offering
amazing vistas & roadways within for easy
access and recreational pursuits. Borders onto
Crown land & privately situated at the end of
the road. Seller nancing available. $680,000
RICH OSBORNE 604-664-7633
Personal Real Estate Corporation
rich
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KURT NIELSEN 250-898-7200
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FAWN GUNDERSON 250-982-2314
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CHASE WESTERSUND 778-927-6634
COLE WESTERSUND 604-360-0793
JASON ZROBACK 1-604-414-5577
JAMIE ZROBACK 1-604-483-1605
MATT CAMERON 250-200-1199
matt
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landquest.com
By TOM WALKER
KAMLOOPS – While the BC Honey
Producers Association had to cancel its
semi-annual education day scheduled
for March 28 as a result of restrictions
introduced to ght COVID-19, it was
also one of the rst to take its semi-
annual business meeting online.
This is a little one sided, and we
can consider other formats if needed
for future meetings, BCHPA president
Kerry Clark said at the end of meeting
on March 27. “But we have been able
to get through our agenda in record
time.
The association has 502 paid-up
members, reports treasurer Irene
Tiampo. The balance is healthy, too,
due in part to the education days held
twice each year.
The associations representative to
the Canadian Honey Council, Stan
Reist, gave a thorough report on the
possible eects that transport
restrictions may have on importing
bee packages and queens for
replacement stock. Importing these
bees enables BC and Alberta
producers to stock up their apiaries for
pollination services and summer
honey production.
Research remains an on-going
priority for the BCHPA.
UBC bee researcher Heather Higo
reported on ve research projects
BCHPA is funding. The bee health in
blueberries project is in the second
year of comparing colonies in and
away from blueberry elds. More
colonies had European Foulbrood
(EFB) symptoms in the hives
pollinating blueberries.
These ndings concur with what
groups across Canada and in several
US states reported at Apimondia 2019
when they met to discuss the increase
of EFB in colonies that pollinate
blueberries.
However, there has also been an
increase in EFB symptoms recently in
colonies not involved in blueberry
pollination, Higo noted.
Higo says the plan for the
upcoming year is to complete
pathogen and residue analysis, data
compilation and evaluation and
communicate the results and
recommendations from the blueberry
study.
UBC researcher Leonard Foster has
been working with Peter Awram of
Worker Bee Honey Co. in Chilliwack to
develop tests to detect adulteration of
honey.
Rice and corn syrups are
increasingly being used worldwide to
adulterate honey and stretch existing
supplies. Foster is combining his work
in mass spectrometry with Awrams
work with Nuclear Magnetic
Resonance (NMR) to perfect honey
sampling techniques. The project has
nalized conditions for testing, Higo
reports, and is proceeding to collect
and analyze data and formalize the
testing process. The objective is to
extend the method to diagnostic labs
or, perhaps, commercialize it.
A novel compound to control
varroa mites is the focus of Erika
Plettners work at Simon Fraser
University. She eld-tested an
acaricidal compound in colonies last
summer. It had a signicant impact on
mite populations.
This is very promising work, notes
Higo, but will be a number of years in
development.
An atypical form of foulbrood that
does not test positive for either
American Foulbrood or European
Foulbrood has repeatedly been found
in hives in the Kootenays. The National
Bee Diagnostic Center in Beaverlodge,
Alberta is working to match the
Kootenay disease with strains of
foulbrood from other areas. No match
has yet been found and more work is
required.
Better queens
Grand Forks apiarist and BC Bee
Breeders Association president Liz
Huxter wants BC to develop better
queens. Their availability is critical to
the development of BC’s bee industry.
Queens reared in BC were compared
to imports from California and Hawaii.
Sperm viability and sperm counts were
similar, and the local queens had a
larger ovary mass. The signicance of
the dierence has not yet been
determined.
Provincial apiculturist Paul van
Westendorp outlined the government’s
campaign to rout out any possible
nests of invasive Asian hornets.
Following the destruction of a nest
in Nanaimo last fall, a specimen was
found in White Rock in November and
another two just across the border
near Blaine, Washington in December.
There is likely an urban nest near
White Rock, says van Westendorp.
Beekeepers, municipalities,
businesses and the public have been
notied to be on the lookout,
particularly in along 0 Avenue, which
parallels the Canada-US border. Van
Westendorp will be leading a trapping
program in the area.
As for any laggards from the nest in
Nanaimo, van Westendorp is condent
local beekeepers can handle them.
Looking ahead, plans are still on
track to hold the associations 100th
anniversary conference, trade show
and business meeting in Abbotsford in
late October.
We have until the end of April to
negotiate a new hotel contract, notes
rst vice-president Dan Mawson.
The 2021 semi-annual education
day is scheduled for the Kamloops
Coast Hotel and Conference Centre,
which allowed the association to
transfer the deposit from the 2020
meeting to secure space for next year’s
event. Several speakers scheduled for
the 2020 semi-annual meeting have
promised to attend in 2021.
Honey producers keep focus on research
Semi-annual business meeting via videoconference updates apiarists
Beekeepers
stung about
import issues
Shortage underscores need for
local bees
TO BEE OR NOT TO BEE. Some apiarists are saying pollinators will be in short supply this spring due to travel
restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 9
www.horstwelding.com 1.866.567.4162
Side Discharge
For straw and lyme
1-1/2” high paddles
Rear mesh back panel
Secondary beater drum
• Agitator
Material can be discharged
from either side
Reist says rearing local
stock – queens and nucs –
has been a focus of
numerous sessions at BC
Honey Producers Association
education days in recent
years, noting how it could
eliminate some of the
diculties foreign queens
have to overcome to be
by TOM WALKER
NANAIMO – Restrictions on
international travel designed
to limit the spread of COVID-
19 are also preventing
beekeepers across Canada,
including many in BC, from
accessing the bees needed to
rebuild colonies for the
coming season.
“I have heard that orders of
some 16,000 bee packages
have been cancelled because
they cannot be delivered to
Western Canada, says Stan
Reist, co-owner of Flying
Dutchman Honey in Nanaimo
and BC’s representative to the
Canadian Honey Council.
“New Zealand has told us
they can supply them but
with commercial ights
halted, we have no way to get
them here.
Commercial ights take live
cargo in the hold below
passengers but that ended
when Canada closed its
borders to international
visitors on March 18.
Recognizing the urgency,
Agriculture and Agri-Food
Canada and the Canadian
Honey Council sprang into
action in April to nd a
solution and struck a deal
with Air Canada. A rst
shipment of queens landed in
Toronto aboard a cargo ight
from New Zealand on April 17.
But the arrangement has
yet to deliver a reliable supply
of bees to BC.
How large the shortfall will
be is unknown. While hives in
the Lower Mainland are
already active, beekeepers in
northern BC have yet to open
their hives.
We just don’t know how
many bees we will need, says
Reist. We don’t know if there
will be a shortage of
pollinators.
Overwintering active hives
and splitting them into
multiple colonies in the
spring, as well as rearing
queens to go with those
splits, is an advanced skill and
beekeepers often depend on
foreign queens. To make up
for losses, BC beekeepers
typically pour packages of live
bees and a queen (often
imported from California or
Hawaii) into hives to get a
colony buzzing.
“Currently, we can get the
queens in from California and
Hawaii, says Reist, “but we
need the packages of bees to
go with them.
Pollination risk
Without strong colonies,
blueberry, cranberry and
raspberry production in the
Fraser Valley could suer.
Flowering usually begins in
late April, depending on the
variety, weather and the
location and continues
through late May. Alberta
beekeepers usually bring their
colonies to BC to forage and
numbers typically double
before the colonies head back
to Alberta to tackle canola.
Without the usual number
of hives in the berry elds,
yields may be much lower.
“I moved some hives into
blueberry elds this week,
Peter Awram of Worker Bee
Honey in Chilliwack said the
week of April 13. Though we
are a BC company, after
pollination we move our hives
over to Alberta to make
honey.
Awram says he has heard
that it will be dicult for
beekeepers to ll pollination
contracts. While he expects
his hives to be strong
pollinators, beekeepers
depending on bees from
overseas and who didn’t
receive reinforcements before
international ights shut
down will be in a tough spot.
Packages put together now
will not be strong enough to
do the work.
A package has 1.5 kg of
bees, Awram notes. We
usually put 3 kg colonies into
the blueberry elds.
Pollination is always pretty
tight, says Awram, but this
year will be worse. With more
than 30,000 acres of
blueberries in the valley, up to
70,000 hives will be required.
“I don’t think there are
much more than 22,000 hives
available for pollination, he
says.
Advocating for technology transfer
Last May, BC Honey Producers
Association members heard a presentation
on the merits of a technology transfer team
from Les Eccles, the Ontario team lead, at its
semi-annual meeting. The team provides
technical support to beekeepers.
Since that time, Alberta has launched a
technology transfer team and Manitoba has
begun to develop its own. BC is now the
only province in Canada without one even
though – now home to more than 2,700
beekeepers, according to Statistics Canada,
more than any other province.
A tech transfer team, I feel, could be a
huge benet, says Heather Higo. “But the
biggest benet would be the increased
level of reliable knowledge that would be
available to BC beekeepers, translating to a
better understanding of our bees, better
management and healthier bees.
Higo says provincial beekeeping
associations and their provincial
governments typically provide startup
funding for the teams, which then rely on
multiple sources for ongoing funding.
They apply for grants, develop research
proposals – the recent blueberry health
project would have been ideal for a tech
transfer team – and some oer fee-for-
services to beekeepers and contracts with
berry growers such as hive strength inspection
services during pollination, she explains.
Testing, advising and educational
services are common to all teams either
through workshops or one-on-one.
Tom Walker
See BEE on next page
o
IAFBC defers
major decisions
Annual meeting sticks to basics
BEE shortage nfrom page 9
10 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
Dustin
Stadnyk
CPA, CA
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CPA, CA
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CPA, CMA
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Jack Reams P.Ag. Agri-Consulting
by PETER MITHAM
ABBOTSFORD – Two key
issues facing the Investment
Agriculture Foundation of BC
will be discussed another day
thanks to the COVID-19
pandemic.
The foundations annual
general meeting on April 16
should have been an
opportunity to discuss its new
strategic plan as well as a new
trust fund to be created from
$2.5 million in legacy funds
left over from expired
programs. But it was held by
videoconference, thanks to
social distancing
requirements, so the
foundations board decided to
defer a discussion of the
matters until members could
meet in person.
These are pretty weighty
topics and they need a big,
fulsome discussion, said
executive director Michelle
Koski. The members need a
space and time to do that.
The strategic plan species
the creation of the new trust
fund as its top priority, as it
will contribute to the long-
term nancial sustainability of
IAF.
The foundations outgoing
chair, Arzeena Hamir,
expressed pride in the
foundations work over the
past year, describing the new
strategic plan as a tactical
action plan that will help
ensure that were moving in
by PETER MITHAM
ABBOTSFORD – BC
farmland values rose 5.4% in
2019, according to Farm
Credit Canadas annual
survey released last month.
This compared to a 6.1%
increase in 2018, and was
slightly ahead of the national
average of 5.2%.
The highest average per-
acre value in the province
last year was recorded in the
Okanagan at $103,288 as
buyers purchased orchards
for vineyard development.
The most expensive region
continued to be the South
Coast, however, where sale
values maxed out at $186,000
an acre. Northern BC, which
was among the most active
regions in the province last
year according to provincial
property transfer data, saw
values rise 4% to an average
of just $1,712 an acre.
Vancouver Island, which
led the country last year in
terms of value gains, saw a
13.1% increase in land values
to an average of $57,500,
driven by transactions on the
Saanich Peninsula. It was
displaced as the top region
for land price increases by
Atlantic Canada, where PEI
logged an increase of 22.6%
and New Brunswick reported
land prices up 17.2%. The
driver of land values on PEI
was potatoes, while dairy
operations in southern New
Brunswick helped boost
prices in that province. Prices
in both provinces are a
fraction of what they are in
BC, averaging less than
$6,500 an acre.
Many real estate markets
are experiencing slower
times as a result of the
disruption caused by the
the direction that the
members and the directors
want to see for IAF.
Were trying to be as
transparent as possible with
the new policies, and moving
forward we really want to see
the IAF as an enduring
resource for the sector, she
told the meeting.
In addition to nancial
sustainability, the new
strategic plan recommends a
board that reects the make-
up of the agriculture sector,
and an applications system
that’s client-focused.
The foundation delivered
funding for 11 programs in
2019 that supported 198
projects worth $11.2 million.
Nevertheless, it remains in a
strong nancial position, with
$32.8 million in assets at the
beginning of 2020.
However, the impact of
COVID-19 on nancial markets
and farming operations isn’t
going unnoticed.
We are anticipating
signicant project changes
and in many cases, projects
will no longer be going
forward, Hamir noted.
This means a total of 200
projects worth $4 million
could see changes. IAF is
working with the BC Ministry
of Agriculture to “formulate
strategies to re-allocate or re-
purpose these dollars. It is
also working with its
investment advisor at HSBC to
minimize losses, with its
investment portfolio down
3.9% as of March 31, 2020.
We will be providing
enhanced nancial reporting
to the board in 2020, Hamir
promised.
However, she’ll be stepping
down after six years on the
board.
Jack DeWit oered thanks
for her service.
“I was there with you for
ve years, and I know how
passionate you are, he said.
Also departing are Dennis
Lapierre, Kiren Sihota, Kalpna
Solanki and Walter Fritsche.
The new slate of directors
for the foundation includes
new appointees Mike Manion,
representing agri-business,
retail and agri-tech, and
Corine Springeld,
representing general farm
interest for one-year terms.
Two-year terms will be served
by Irmi Critcher, representing
grains, oilseeds and specialty
crops; Jack DeWit,
representing horticulture; and
David Eto, representing food
and beverage processors.
Current director Angela
Groothof, representing supply
managed commodities, was
re-appointed to the IAF board.
Farmland values facing
headwinds
BC increases still above the national average
COVID-19 pandemic. This
stands to put a damper on
farmland sales this year, too.
According to Gord
Houweling of BC Farm and
Ranch Realty Corp., many
contracts now include
clauses that anticipate delays
in closing. The degree to
which the slowdown affects
transactions will depend on
how long social distancing
restrictions remain in place.
Reductions in the Bank of
Canadas benchmark lending
rate and other measures
designed to counteract the
depressive effect of the
pandemic also stand to play
a role in transaction activity
this year.
Property transfer data from
the BC Ministry of Finance
indicate that farm property
sales were down 4% in the
first three months of this
year. Transactions totalled
283, led by the Peace River
and Fraser Valley regions with
49 and 48 deals respectively.
Metro Vancouver followed
with 35 transactions.
Outlying regions were
hardest hit by the decline in
sales. The most active regions
of the province more than
made up for slower activity
elsewhere, with transactions
at or above last year’s levels.
However, almost all regions
save for the Fraser Valley saw
activity decline in March as
restrictions related to COVID-
19 restricted movement.
FOR BAGGED or
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604.794.3701
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Certified by Pro-Cert Organic Systems Ltd.
accepted into a hive.
The current situation
reminds him of 35 years ago
when the US-Canadian
border was closed to bee
movements due to varroa
mite outbreaks in the US. He
says it’s a classic case of the
ease of globalism versus the
security of raising your own
stock. He is advocating for
queen-rearing courses to help
BC producers be self-
sucient.
We spend approximately
$11 million a year on
imported stock across
Canada. Wouldn’t it be nice
to recapture a big chunk of
that revenue and have it
returned to Canadian
beekeepers’ pockets?”
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 11
BCAC focuses on public trust with lower budget
Membership fees unchanged during pandemic
by PETER MITHAM
ABBOTSFORD – A million-dollar
budget will underpin the work of the
BC Agriculture Council in the year
ahead as it seeks to build public trust
in local food and make sure there are
workers on hand to harvest it.
The budget for the coming year
was passed during the council’s
annual general meeting, which was
held via videoconference on April 16
to meet its obligations under the
Societies Act, as well as public health
orders banning large gatherings.
Close to 70 people attended the
meeting, well above the limit of 50
people permitted by the province.
The budget includes more than
$141,000 for public trust initiatives.
“People appreciated the work thats
being done around public trust and
there was discussion that it actually
needs to increase awareness of
farming as a critical industry during
the pandemic, BCAC executive
director Reg Ens said.
Several members felt a proposed
levy of $100,000 to fund the work was
unaordable, however. On April 15,
the BCAC board voted to eliminate
quarterly payments scheduled for the
remainder of 2020. Just $22,560 has
been collected to date, and the
shortfall – or about $63,435 – will be
allocated from reserve funds to
support the work.
A slightly smaller budget means
that scheduled program activities will
be pared back, with in-person
activities moved online where
possible.
BCAC is also allocating $50,000 to
support the Western Agricultural
Labour Initiative’s work with foreign
workers. This was another late
amendment to the budget, in view of
reduced revenue from certain
programs and the greater role WALI
will have to play in managing workers
this year.
However, the dues BCAC charges
members will be unchanged. While
this may seem odd given that the
budget is forecasting a deficit of
$215,800 in the coming fiscal year,
expectations of a deficit in excess of
$181,500 last year did not
materialize.
In fact, the council ended up with a
surplus of $70,173, thanks in part to
strong growth in revenues from the
annual agriculture gala and a
revitalized Farmer ID card program.
“Overall expenditures were less
than budgeted, and this is primarily
due to savings in both Ag Days and
stang, reported BCAC controller
Jackie Mays. These savings, along
with increased revenues, resulted in a
surplus rather than the originally
budgeted decit.
The budget was passed with one
abstention. Organic sector
representative Niklaus Forstbauer
abstained, due to the public trust
levy.
All sectors view building trust with
the public as important work.
However, the Certied Organic
Associations of BC has long been
concerned that work by the
conventional sector builds on and
ultimately dilutes its own work to
educate and build trust with
consumers.
Forstbauer seconded a motion
conrming the BCAC board of
directors. The current slate was
accepted, with one seat – for Interior
horticulture – left vacant by the
departure of cherry grower Sukhpal
Bal. The vacancy is expected to be
lled shortly.
The Western Agricultural Labour Initiative is expecting to play a greater role in managing
workers this year. SUBMITTED / BC WINE INSTITUTE
A message from Ian Paton Opposition Critic for Agriculture
As the COVID-19 pandemic
continues to unfold across our country
and the world, we are only now starting
to realize the full impact and long-
reaching eects that it will have on our
economy.
is unprecedented crisis has
brought tourism to a halt and lead to the
closure or partial closure of nearly 80 per
cent of Canadian businesses. But what
many do not realize is the dramatic
impact that COVID-19 is having on
agriculture here in BC.
Farmers are experiencing
unprecedented labour shortages,
disruptions in the packing, processing
and transportation sectors, and
increasing domestic and international
market uncertainty. ese fears are
resulting in dicult decisions about
which crops to grow and whether or not
to leave elds fallow for the season.
e Canadian Federation of
Agriculture cautions these
compounding challenges could result in
a decrease in the amount and quality of
food in grocery stores and higher prices
in the months ahead.
It is imperative that British
Columbias government work with
federal counterparts and industry
partners to help to re-stabilize our
province’s agriculture industry.
To whether this storm and ensure the
security and longevity of our local food
system, BC’s agriculture industry must
become more self-sucient. As the old
proverb goes, “those who cannot
remember the past are condemned to
repeat it.” Pre-emptively, BC should
prepare for future interruptions in the
international food supply chain, as
COVID-19 has made us realize just how
reliant we are on food imports. We can
no longer rely on imports of meats,
fruits, and vegetables from other
countries like China, the United States
and Mexico. We need to incentivize both
buying and growing BC products.
is can be done by utilizing more of
BC’s crown ALR land and transitioning it
into better and more ecient food
production uses. More homegrown
vegetables under glass is also to be
considered, as well as increased
opportunities to butcher, process, and
package BC beef, pork, lamb and
poultry.
Every crisis in our nation’s history has
spurred innovation. Let’s utilize this
opportunity to remediate and revive
British Columbias agriculture industry.
Now is the time to consider bold ideas
rooted in new technological
developments. Vertical farming, for
example, could be utilized to maximize
crop yields and reduce the carbon
footprint of food transportation in
increasingly urban areas such as Metro
Vancouver and Greater Victoria. e
biggest barrier to vertical farming is
start-up costs. Our Ministry of
Agriculture could play a pivotal role
helping to fund research and
development in this exciting new
industry.
Recently, BC’s new Food Security
Taskforce recommended a certain
amount of ALR land be set aside
specically for agricultural-industrial
use. is will be critical if BC is to bolster
our packing and processing industries,
as well as to provide local cold-storage
facilities to help keep produce fresh,
retain its value, and increase its shelf life.
Additionally, we need to allow farm
families to be creative and
entrepreneurial in order to come up
with supplemental income to support
their farm operations. I get concerned
when out-of-the-box ideas like festivals,
processing facilities, eateries, roadside
stands, and cafes are shut down by the
Agricultural Land Commission. Agri-
tourism is essential in this province.
ese activities should be encouraged,
not regulated into oblivion.
Finally, if we are to truly take control
of our own destiny when it comes to the
preservation of our food system, we
must invest heavily in education
programs. Let’s re-establish farming as a
subject of inquiry in our schools, and
expand the oering of post-secondary
programs in agriculture, horticulture,
and agronomy. Let’s raise up the next
generation of growers, ranchers,
greenhouse operators, hobby farmers,
and community garden enthusiasts.
e time has come for BC to diversify
its agriculture economy to better equip
future generations of farming.
Agriculture has been labelled as an
essential service during this crisis and
we need to ensure that it is treated as
such, for the good of all British
Columbians.
Paid communication
Ian Paton
MLA for Delta South
604-940-7930
ian.paton.MLA@leg.bc.ca
AgSafe governance
set for a shake-up
Bylaws must be revamped
12 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
by PETER MITHAM
ABBOTSFORD – Changing
times are prompting a shake-
up at BC’s farm safety association.
AgSafe is universally seen
as a positive, helpful and
inuential and impactful
organization, said Kyle Pearce,
principal of think:act
consulting in Vancouver, who
was contracted last year to
undertake a governance
review of the association.
“People also feel quite
optimistic about the future for
AgSafe and feel that theres
more potential to be reached.
But changes at one of its
founding organizations mean
AgSafe will have to revisit how
it chooses its directors.
Originally known as the
Farm & Ranch Health and
Safety Association, AgSafe
formed in 1993 through a
unique partnership between
the province (through
WorkSafeBC); employers
(represented by the BC
Federation of Agriculture, now
the BC Agriculture Council) and
workers (represented by the
Canadian Farmworkers Union).
But leadership of the CFU,
established in 1980 to
represent a workforce made
up largely of Indo-Canadians,
is aging and members have
been mulling its future and
how the union can better
address the current needs of
farmworkers, many of whom
are migrant workers. This
could include dissolution.
The issue was agged in
Pearce’s report to AgSafe as a
great risk for the organization
because its governance
requires participation from
the CFU.
Right now, the CFU
appoints three directors to the
associations board and
industry appoints three. The
current slate of directors
includes CFU co-founder
Charan Gill, Bhupinder Sidhu
and Nina Hansen; industry
appointees include Erik
Bomhof, Larry Rast and
Andrea van Iterson.
Pearce’s governance report,
delivered last November,
recommended changes to the
board’s composition to avoid
any challenges the CFU’s
collapse might present.
Theyre now essential.
Were currently in
discussions between the
directors and the members,
and we have plans for
directors and members to
meet to come to an
agreement about what the
process for selecting board
members will be in the
future., Pearce told AgSafes
annual general meeting, held
by videoconference on April
16.A consultation is planned
for the coming months to
amend AgSafe’s bylaws to
allow changes in how
directors are appointed.
Pearce’s report also
recommended changes to
improve the relationship
between AgSafe’s executive
director – currently Wendy
Bennett – and the board. The
changes aim to enhance the
board’s performance.
That involves changing
documents, being more
organized around the annual
process of the work of the
board, says Pearce, noting,
Those recommendations are
currently being implemented.
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A sure sign of spring. Cherry blossoms brighten the landscape in Osoyoos. PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
Enderby dairy farmer Michael Haak says it’s incredibly hard to see the milk his cows produce go down the drain. PHOTO / JACKIE PEARASE
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 13
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Healthy Soil Nurtures a Healthy Herd
by JACKIE PEARASE
VANCOUVER – A series of
unfortunate events has
resulted in a slight downturn
for the conventional dairy
sector.
On March 19, the BC Milk
Marketing Board
implemented a series of
incentive days for dairy
producers in March, April and
May after uid milk sales at
grocery stores increased 40%
as consumers rushed to stock
up in the face of COVID-19.
But the board cancelled
the incentive days for April
and May on March 31 as
demand for cream fell o due
to the widespread closure of
restaurants and coee shops.
Starbucks, for example,
announced March 20 it was
closing most of its restaurants
in Canada for at least two
weeks; they remained closed
at press time.
That demand at grocery
stores quickly came
backwards. Not all the way
back but it came back
signicantly. And on top of
that, the [foodservice] sector
essentially shut down,
explains BC Dairy Association
general manager Jeremy
Dunn.
With BC cows continuing to
produce as much milk as
before COVID-19 – and wildly
altered buying patterns and
resulting supply chain issues
presenting unique challenges
for the sector – producers
were told to begin disposing
milk on April 3.
Were only in a situation
where about 3% of the daily
milk production (in BC) is
being disposed of on farms,
Dunn says. We know the
supply chain is adjusting
rapidly. We are hopeful this
will be a short-term situation.
Down the drain
Enderby dairy farmer
Michael Haak produces 3,000
litres of milk each day and the
directive resulted in four days
of hard work going down the
drain.
“I was asked by our milk
board to dispose of 12,000
litres, he says. “Its incredibly
hard seeing a product we
work so hard to produce not
make it into the hands of
British Columbians.
Prior to milk being
dumped, an industry-wide
partnership led by the
BCMMB allowed 10,000 four-
litre jugs (40,000 litres) of milk
to be donated to Food Banks
BC on April 7.
Vedder Transport hauled
the milk to dairy processor
Saputo, which processed it,
and distribution partners
Sysco Canada, Associated
Grocers and Save-on-Foods
made sure Food Banks BC
received it.
When we have those
abilities to adjust and we have
excess milk and we have
excess processing capacity,
we’ll work to get that milk
into food banks, Dunn
explains. The last thing a
farmer wants to do is to have
to dispose of the milk on his
farm.
Additionally, the BCDA and
the Mainland Milk Producers
Association collectively
donated $175,000 to Food
Banks BC to purchase food
staples that are in short
supply.
Dunn says supply chain
issues may have resulted in
slower delivery times but he
has been very vocal about the
fact that there is no shortage
of milk, meaning buying limits
in stores aren’t there because
there isn’t enough milk being
produced.
We communicated to
government, we
COVID-19 leads to oversupply of dairy
Organic market
sees upturn
communicated through the
Dairy Farmers of Canada, the
Retail Council of Canada, the
Canadian Federation of
Independent Grocers saying
theres lots of milk. Please take
the signs down, he said.
Most stores had taken
down limits by Easter
weekend as the supply chain
began adjusting, resulting in
an uptick in retail sales. As a
result, the milk board
rescinded the disposal order
on April 14.
There’s still an excess of
cream, which has been
repurposed for animal feed or
into clean energy through an
anaerobic digester, notes
Dunn.
COVID-19 has also resulted
in stang issues for at least
one processor. Another on
Vancouver Island had to
switch from glass to cartons
after stores’ refusal to take
returns resulted in a shortage
of the bottles, Dunn adds.
While conventional milk is
tackling its issues, the organic
milk sector is going strong.
The specialty product is
more reliant on uid milk
sales so reduced foodservice
demand has little had impact
on sales. In fact, a 3% sleeve
which allows producers to
ship more milk without
buying quota on March 31
continues, something Mara
organic dairy farmer Quentin
Bruns doesn’t think will last
long.
“I kind of thought that
during times of tight money
that people would view
organic milk as a luxury item
and I thought we would be
the ones to be hit, he notes.
”I’m surprised by demand
increase but not convinced it
will stay strong over time.
Dunn says the rapidly
changing situation is being
monitored closely across the
world.
“Its a national challenge;
it’s an international challenge,
really, he says. Theres milk
being disposed of on farms in
Wisconsin, throughout the
United States and other
countries in the world,
including New Zealand. So
this is not unique to British
Columbia or even to Canada.
14 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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BC Fairs positive
as large events
banned
Planning continues as fairs look
for ways to move forward
It’s anyone’s guess how many BC fairs will be cancelling this summer as uncertainties about COVID-19 restrictions
start to take their toll. SUBMITTED PHOTO / CLOVERDALE RODEO
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 15
by BARBARA JOHNSTONE
GRIMMER
CLOVERDALE – The BC
Association of Agricultural
Fairs and Exhibitions is bracing
for a rollercoaster of a summer
as restrictions around COVID-
19 prompt organizers to
cancel events across the
province.
Gatherings are limited to no
more than 50 people through
the end of May, and while the
restrictions are reviewed every
two weeks, that’s not likely to
change. The provincial health
order limiting events will more
than likely be extended.
Things like the PNE are not
likely to happen this year,
provincial health ocer Dr.
Bonnie Henry told media on
April 18. This is not the time
for that, and it will not be
through this summer.
PNE representatives
conrmed that the annual fair,
which attracts more than
700,000 people each year,
would not be taking place.
A week before Henrys
statement, the Cloverdale
Rodeo and Country Fair, set
for May 15-18, announced that
it would not go ahead
because of COVID-19. Typically
the rst fair of the season in
BC, it made the dicult
decision to postpone until
2021.
Not alone
Cloverdale wasn’t the only
fair scaling back or cancelling
its plans for 2020. Grand Forks
and District Fall Fair and
Demolition Derby, scheduled
for September 12-13, has
announced its postponement
until 2021. The Pass Creek Fair
and Pender Island Fall Fair are
also cancelled for 2020. The
Alberni and District Fall Fair
will also not take place this
year.
The cancellations have
been playing out across
Canada, with fairs set for May
and June the rst to pull the
plug. Those scheduled for later
in the season have been
holding on in hope, but have
gradually started cancelling,
too. Alberta, Quebec and New
Brunswick have gone a step
further, cancelling all
agricultural fairs through the
end of 2020.
Many fairs in BC continue to
monitor the situation day-by-
day as the fair season
approaches, hoping the
easing of restrictions will allow
them to continue.
IPE general manager
Yvonne Paulson says the fair in
Armstrong is one of them.
We are being cautious with
our decision making and our
number one priority is the
health and safety of our
guests, sponsors, volunteers,
sta, board and membership
(the community at large), she
told Country Life in BC at press
time.
Some fairs are exploring
ways to have a safe event,
such as an online virtual fair, or
by incorporating hand-
washing and sanitizing
stations. Layouts to
accommodate physical
distancing are also being
explored.
Optimistic
BC Fairs executive director
Janine Saw and BC Fairs
president Karen Streeter
continue to be optimistic as
they support fair and
exhibition committees
throughout BC with bi-weekly
Zoom meetings. A resource
page on the BC Fairs website
provides regular updates
regarding COVID-19.
Agricultural fair boards in
BC range from really
concerned and cautious to
determined that if there is a
way to do it, there will be a
fair, says Saw.
BC Fairs recommends that
fairs keep planning and set a
decision date with enough
lead time to cancel if
necessary.
Saw recognizes the service
members such as the
entertainers, the concessions
and the midway.
West Coast Amusements is
not operating due to COVID-
19. All 4-H events have been
cancelled.
BC Fairs is communicating
with other provincial fair
associations as well as the
Canadian Association of Fairs
and Exhibitions (CAFE).
CAFE is concerned that
non-prot volunteer
organizations and the service
providers that are impacted
by COVID-19 may fall through
the cracks if theyre not
eligible for federal funding.
For those fairs faced with
the dicult decision to cancel
in 2020, BC Fairs says to call it
a postponement instead.
“You’ve got to stay positive,
says Saw. “Don’t lose hope. You
can start on next years fair,
help other fairs, and stay
positive.
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16 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
by JULIE ROBINSON
FORT ST. JOHN – Due to
high moisture conditions last
fall, Peace River farmers still
have over 40% of their annual
crops out and unharvested.
This means over 140,000 acres
need to be managed before
seed can go into the ground,
resulting in over $33.5 million
of crop that will be lost or
greatly reduced in value due
to having spent the winter out
in the eld.
The big challenge
producers in the region face at
this point is three-fold,
according to BC Grain
Producers Association
president Rick Kantz, who
farms near Fort St. John: how
to harvest and seed at the
same time with only one set
of equipment.
“Seeding this spring and
harvesting will be extremely
challenging due to the late
and cold spring that the Peace
is currently experiencing, he
says.
Producers were hopeful they could begin
harvesting in April, but it looks like harvest will need
to happen at the same time as seeding, stretching
available equipment and labour to the max.
A secondary issue facing producers is cash ow.
This is the second year in a row that producers have
faced delays selling their crops. The 2018 crop had
diculty reaching markets due to issues around rail
access. The 2019 crop is only partially harvested
resulting in some producers with the 2018 crop still
in bins on the farm and debts mounting.
While cash advances from the federal government
through the 2018 Advance Payment Program has
extended their repayment deadline to September
20, 2020, many producers in the Peace will need to
put in crops with very little
cash and very little time.
This means there will likely
be more acres seeded to
cereals and peas than canola
in 2020, reducing 2020
potential prot margins, says
Robert Vander Linden, a
director of the Canadian
Canola Growers Association,
farming near Dawson Creek.
The re restrictions that
came into eect April 16
banning category two and
three res provincewide has
been another signicant issue
facing producers. This ban,
expected to last to June 15,
limits burning to stubble and
last years crops.
“Burning the elds is a
faster way of getting many
acres ready to seed in a short
period of time, says Kantz.
Burning also reduces
unnecessary tillage and soil
erosion risks.
The re ban complicates
the timely completion of the
work for farmers but the
province is working with
producers to allow them to proceed. Grain and
oilseed producers who can't harvest their crop and
need to burn it before reseeding can obtain an
exemption letter and registration number from the
BC Wildre Service. Producers also need to check
with local re departments to see if a burn permit is
required in their area.
Peace growers facing multiple challenges
Moving ahead means getting last year’s crop off the fields first
Justin Shipton estimates losses at $72,000 on this quarter section of canola north of Dawson Creek. PHOTO / JULIE
ROBINSON
Co-op considers
four-way fix at
crossroads
BC Tree Fruits will put consultants’
recommendations to a vote
BC Tree Fruits CEO Warren Saranchan says the co-operative will be moving out of its ofces soon. The building
sits in the heart of downtown Kelowna, across from city hall and a block from Lake Okanagan. PHOTO / TOM WALKER
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 17
BC FRUIT GROWERS’ ASSOCIATION
1-800-619-9022 (ext 1)
email: replant@bcfga.com
www.bcfga.com
The Province of BC has provided funding to enhance the
competitiveness of the tree fruit sector.
The fund is open to tree fruit growers, producers, and processors to
support three key areas of priority:
Research: cultivar, disease and pest research.
Marketing: export market opportunities and market
development research.
Infrastructure: sector-based infrastructure
modernization such as new equipment.
The Tree Fruit Competitiveness Fund is jointly delivered by the
BC Fruit Growers’ Association and Investment Agriculture
Foundation BC.
For details about the Tree Fruit Competitiveness Fund, including
eligibility and application forms, please visit www.bcfga.com or
iafbc.ca/tree-fruit, or contact funding@iafbc.ca.
Project intake is continous. Apply in advance of project
initiation – 8 weeks minimum is recommended.
Tree Fruit Competitiveness Fund
by TOM WALKER
KELOWNA – BC Tree Fruits
Cooperative (BCTF), the
largest fruit packer in the
province, is at a crossroads.
The grower-owned
cooperative has been in
disarray for years. They have
gone through four CEOs in
eight years, board
disagreements have hit the
media and grower returns
have plummeted.
A promise of stabilization
began to appear this fall with
the hiring of Warren
Saranchan as CEO.
Saranchan brought 25 years
experience in business
restructuring at food
processing businesses
including Sun-Rype, Maple
Leaf Foods and Labatts.
Summerland apple grower
Steve Brown, a former eld
person with the co-op was
elected board chair.
The two men came on
board just as the 354-member
co-op was embarking on a
governance study, funded in
part by the BC Tree Fruit
Competitiveness Fund and
undertaken by consultants
John Kay and William
Oemichen. Saranchan calls
them two of the best in the
business.
A 52- page report was
presented to the co-ops
board and members in
February that is clear, direct,
and damning.
A cascade of complex
factors has pushed BC Tree
Fruits into a serious, life-
threatening crisis, the report
states, placing much of the
responsibility on the board.
We nd that BCTF has
reached a crisis point caused
by numerous failures and
problems with the
organizations structure and
governance.
Those failures and
problems underpin much of
the turmoil of the past eight
years, including the steady
succession of top executives.
The board and
membership is factionalized,
often driven by personal
agendas rather than business
decisions and is light on the
skills, experience and qualities
necessary to govern the
operations of a $140 million
enterprise, the report states.
This has led to some of the
provinces top growers leaving
the co-op in recent years to
ship through independent
packers. The independents
only accept fruit that meets
their standards, and can
secure higher returns for
growers’ fruit. BCTF enforces
no quality standards for
members, who are allowed to
ship fruit regardless of
condition. As a result, the
governance report describes
BCTF as the valleys “packing
house of last resort.
Growers consider the study
well-written and credible.
“It doesn’t tell us anything
we haven’t known for a
couple of years, one long-
time Kelowna grower
remarked. (Sources asked not
to be named for fear of
recriminations from fellow
growers.) “But it puts it all
together in one package and
makes some clear
recommendations for the way
forward.
Tough and bold
The study makes 15
recommendations that it
describes as “tough and bold
decisions” needed to end the
crisis and chart a path
forward. Some relate to
membership and will need
members’ approval, while
others address issues with the
board and only need the
approval of directors.
Saranchan explains the
recommendations that must
receive approval from two-
four or ve cents they might
receive doesn’t even cover the
cost of picking that fruit.
Instead, it becomes the
co-ops problem, bringing
down returns for all growers.
“I’m getting tired of being a
hospital for growers’ lousy
fruit, one marketer said a
couple of years ago, and the
problem continues today.
We had between 8 and 9
million pounds of fruit that
went into diversion this year,
says Saranchan.
Growers who delivered
top-grade fruit of the correct
size were advanced just half
of what they would have
received in previous years,
and this spring their second
draw was a bill.
Thats absolute BS, says
one third-generation grower.
This is the rst time we have
ever received a bill.
More qualifications
The second
recommendation being put to
co-op members seeks higher
eligibility requirements for
prospective directors.
“Candidates should be
thirds of co-op members.
There are four that
growers will vote on at a
special AGM and will require a
super-majority, he says. There
are some recommendations
to be adopted by the board
and a couple that are directed
at management.
The rst recommendation
deals with poor fruit quality
and calls for more restrictive
membership criteria and
enforcement of standards.
“Members who are
unwilling to improve fruit
quality should be terminated,
the study says.
Growers still deliver low-
quality fruit to the door of the
packing house, although the
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18 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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required to posses a minimum
of a post-secondary
certicate, diploma or degree
recognized by a provincial,
state or national authority,
the study recommends. The
current composition of the
board and the eligibility
requirements do not appear
to reect the business needs
and realities of the
cooperative.
Instead, the study says the
board has become a political
body controlled by factions
and driven by personal
agendas rather than by
economics and sound
business decisions.
Thirdly, growers will be
asked to approve the
appointment of two
independent directors.
“Independent directors are
necessary to supplement and
enhance the board’s
experience and skills in critical
areas such as nance, market
development, supply chain
management, real estate and
similar functions that are
aligned with the cooperatives
business operations, explains
the study.
Strong boards have been a
fact of Saranchan’s business
experience.
“Directors who can provide
expertise are a foundation of
a successful board, he says.
“I’ve heard growers suggest
that independent directors
would be management
pawns. On the contrary, they
are there to make us work
better; they think with a
dierent mindset.
The nal recommendation
for grower approval proposes
limiting directors to two
consecutive three-year terms.
After a one-year absence they
may stand again.
The study explains that
longer-term board members
are likely to begin thinking of
themselves as sta members
rather than a board director
and risk crossing over to make
what would be considered
management decisions rather
than focusing on policy issues.
The four recommendations
have sparked a range of
responses from growers.
There is a lot of talk about
what it means to be a
member of the co-op, says
Saranchan. “The questions
are useful as we start to talk
about what comes next.
Regular governance
reviews are critical to the well-
being of any board, notes
Saranchan.
“It is critical to get
governance right, he says.
“Governance can dene how
a business makes money and
how they spend money.
He says the co-op is at a
critical point in its existence.
“If growers vote not to
change how the business
works it is only going to put
more pressure on returns, he
says. “I can’t stress enough
how important it is that we
make the changes that we
need to make and we do it in
a very timely way.
He urges members to ask
as many questions as needed
to get informed. The initial
conversations hes had have
stoked his optimism.
“How I am operating now is
that as members learn and
understand more about the
various options in front of
them, they will move the
motions through, he says.
The reality is we have to
change the trajectory of this
business.
by MYRNA STARK LEADER
OTTAWA – Plans are on track to step up
unannounced audits this summer at
premises registered with the CanadaGAP
certication program.
The programs executive director,
Heather Gale, says the program usually
undertakes 2,000 audits of the programs
approximately 3,100 participants each year.
A tenth of this years audits will be
unannounced, up from 5% when
unannounced audits began in 2017.
The audits are required under the terms
of the Global Food Safety Initiative, an
organization headquartered in Belgium.
The increase in unannounced audits has
been driven by the processing sector,
which has faced greater food safety issues.
Processors will experience an unannounced
audit once every three years while farms
can expect one about once every 10 years.
“Customers [believe] an unannounced
audit is better at nding non-compliance,
but that hasn’t been the case with
agriculture, says Gale.
She says auditors nd very few issues
during inspections of farms, largely
because producers know its not in their
best interests to lose certication.
Public health concerns during the
COVID-19 pandemic has heightened
consumer interest in food safety.
A recent Angus Reid survey found 52%
of Canadians are avoiding grocery stores,
up from 18% before the pandemic. While
ordering meat or buying eggs from the
farmer next door is an opportunity for
many producers, the majority of Canadians
want reassurance that what they consume
is safe.
Gale says if restrictions on social
engagement remain in place for an
extended period, remote audits or audits
when premises aren’t active are possible.
Theres also the option to extend existing
certicates six months and do the audits
within that time frame. However, that
assumes that travel restrictions and other
measures related to the pandemic are lifted.
Surprise audits to double
GAP shift reflects issues in the processing sector
Don’t
forget
to
RENEW
your
Subscription.
Co-op focuses
on cutting costs,
increasing sales
Assets, target markets under
review
Molly Thurston, left, of Pearl Agricultural Consulting (formerly a horticulturist with BC Tree Fruits), thanks Charlotte
Leaming for her service to the industry at the BC tree fruit hort symposium earlier this year. PHOTO / TOM WALKER
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 19
by TOM WALKER
KELOWNA – BC Tree Fruits
Cooperative is considering
several strategies to revive its
agging fortunes, drawing on
the expertise of business
consultants John Kay and
William Oeminchen, authors
of a recent governance report
for the co-op.
The strategies we are
working on touch every
function of the business, says
CEO Warren Saranchan. We
can come out of this and
provide better returns to
growers.
A top priority is the
re-negotiation of purchasing
agreements “the items that
we buy to get the fruit to
market, says Saranchan.
Overhead costs are a big
issue. With that in mind, the
co-op plans to close its Water
Street oce in downtown
Kelowna, a block from Lake
Okanagan. It could be sold,
but a nal decision hasn’t
been made.
“I don’t like re sales. We
really have to understand
what the market is doing, says
Saranchan.
A similar approach applies
to the 85-acre turf farm within
the Agricultural Land Reserve
near the airport, which the
co-op bought last year for
$6.5 million to consolidate its
packing operations.
The idea of holding on to a
non-performing asset does
not sit well with me, says
Saranchan. “Still, we have to
make sure we are selling assets
at the appropriate value.
Sale of the co-ops Broken
Ladder cider brand is under
consideration, too. It lost
$850,000 last year, and
Saranchan says it needs to
be xed pronto.
“I am not opposed to
diversication, and turning
process-grade fruit into
something of higher value
makes sense, says
Saranchan. “But selling cider
is dierent from selling
apples.
Selling assets will not
directly improve grower
returns; for that, quality fruit is
needed.
But growers will be on their
own this year with the
retirement of long-time eld
person Charlotte Leaming.
Shes the sole survivor of lay-
os last year that saw ve
other sta terminated.
We will need to contract a
certain amount of technical
expertise to support the
packing house with
information from the
orchards, says Saranchan.
But he says the co-op can’t
keep providing support to
growers in the current
environment, especially when
theyre not obliged to follow
the recommendations and
continue to ship poor-quality
fruit. This past year, for
example, calcium levels in
apples were the lowest in 20
years, negatively impacting
storage life.
With our current model, I
could put 100 eld services
sta out there and it would
not change the growing
practices or the fruit quality of
some growers, says
Saranchan. “If you are
looking to increase your
production, you are going to
have to invest in the support
you need like any other
business.
Saranchan says the co-op
is assessing its target markets
and considering where it can
compete and be both
protable and sustainable.
We are very focused now
in Western Canada and I think
there is an opportunity for us
to focus on other markets, he
says. “I would rather take the
top-quality fruit that we have
and sell that into markets that
want to do more business
with us and who see the
value, rather than play a
lowest-price game.
The co-op recognizes that
grower returns have been
down for several years and
that could limit the nancial
resources growers may have
to work the 2020 crop.
The cooperative is moving
quickly to present a plan that
will provide some nancial
support to growers for the
2020 crop," says Saranchan.
"We expect to be communicating
this plan to growers in the
upcoming weeks.
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Cargill announced a temporary shutdown of its beef plant near High River where ofcials in the area are dealing with over 400 cases of COVID-19 linked
to the plant, including the death of a worker in April. PHOTO / THE CANADIAN PRESS/JEFF MCINTOSH
Volatility from plant shutdowns could hit BC
Ranchers
anxious about
fall sale prices
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 21
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HE
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email: audreycifca@gmail.com
email: okanaganfeeders@gmail.com
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Advance Payments Program is available to association members on their feeder cattle purchases.
by TOM WALKER
KAMLOOPS – As beef
processing plant closures and
slowdowns expand, the
Canadian cattle industry
continues to press
government for more
support.
The assistance measures
announced by the federal
government are far from
adequate to help beef
producers navigate through
this critical situation, says Bob
Lowe, president of the
Canadian Cattlemens
Association (CCA). Any
further delay in implementing
policies to help us manage
through these dicult times
will be crippling to the
industry.
BC sends more than 90% of
its animals to Alberta for
slaughter. But on April 20,
Cargill announced it was
temporarily – and indenitely
– closing its plant in High
River, Alberta, thanks to an
outbreak of COVID-19 among
employees. The JBS plant in
Brooks, where workers have
also been hit with COVID-19,
is down to one shift. Together
those two plants account for
70% of federally inspected
beef processing capacity in
Canada.
Those production losses
mean about 6,000 head a day
below normal capacity in
Western Canada, says Dennis
Laycraft executive vice-
president of the CCA. That
translates to 30,000 fewer
cattle being processed each
week.
Alberta Health is
monitoring the situation at
the two plants, says Laycraft.
Cargill had already installed
450 plexiglass shields on the
cutting oor, workers were
wearing visors, masks and
gloves, only essential
personnel were allowed in
and movement within the
plant was tightly controlled.
Cargill is not saying when it
will reopen. When it does,
output will be reduced as
infected workers will remain
at home and others will stay
away out of concern for their
health.
The shutdowns mean
plants are not accepting
cattle from feedlots. This has
pushed down prices to their
lowest levels since 2013. The
week ending April 18 saw
prices drop from $1.45 to
$1.05 a pound.
The result is a backlog at
feedlots, which have been
putting animals on a
maintenance ration,
according to Janice Tranberg,
president of the National
Cattle Feeders Association.
They are just trying to
make the best of it, she says.
The impact could move
back through the supply
chain to BC.
Whether people choose to
get rid of cattle because they
want them gone, or if they are
wondering if they have
enough feed to continue
holding them, they are
certainly taking a hit, says
Andrea van Iterson, executive
director of the BC Association
of Cattlefeeders. “Right now
there are still sales happening;
its just at a very lowered rate.
BC’s beef industry is largely
cow-calf operators who are
just nishing calving and
looking ahead to when they’ll
start shipping those calves to
market.
They have spent the
money up front to produce
those calves and are looking
with angst at fall prices, says
Kevin Boon, general manager
of the BC Cattlemens
Association.
It seems like the ghosts of
the BSE crisis in 2003 are
returning
With BSE, the markets
were closed to us, says Lowe.
This time we can’t get the
cattle processed, so it
amounts to the same thing.
The markets are there, and
the cattle are there but the
middle part is suering pretty
badly.
One way to ease that
middle part is to revive the
set-aside program instituted
in 2003. The program pays
producers to withhold cattle
from market when processing
See SET-ASIDE on next page
o
SET-ASIDE program could provide support for ranchers nfrom page 21
22 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
space isn’t available.
Producers receive nancial
support to keep cattle on
maintenance rations that
keep them at a steady weight
until processing capacity frees
up. A committee of industry
and government ocials
would monitor the supply to
determine how many animals
are placed in the program.
The industry began
lobbying the government on
the issue in March, fearing
plants might shut down. That
moment arrived in April.
The situation has gone
from serious to critical, says
Fawn Jackson, director of
government and international
relations with the Canadian
Cattlemens Association.
But the federal government
has yet to respond, and seems
to be counting on the
provinces to step up.
At present there is no
action being taken, she says.
“Somebody needs to act
now.
The volatility in the markets
has caused a sharp increase in
the price of the Western
Livestock Price Insurance program at a time when it
is needed most.
“Premiums that were historically in the range of
$15-$20 per head are now in the $70 per head
range and that makes it ineective for our
producers to use, says Jackson.
Western Livestock Price Insurance is one of the
main programs the beef industry uses to manage
risk.
“Our recommendation to the federal government
is to extend the program right across Canada to
address and implement a cost-shared premium
similar to how crop insurance works, she explains.
We think that [crop insurance] is an example of
how it can be adapted to the COVID-19 times.
CCA is further asking the government that
COVID-19 be deemed a natural disaster under the
AgriRecovery program, as well as eliminating the $3
million payment cap on AgriStability. Its also calling
for enhancements to both
programs to make them more
useful to the beef industry.
This is close to the severity
we saw during BSE, says
Laycraft. “During that time,
27,000 producers left the
industry. Thats pretty much a
generation of producers.
He doesn’t want to see the
same thing happen this time
around, as it would take years
for the industry to recover.
The government is aware of
both the immediate and
ongoing impacts, he adds.
“If they do move quickly
with these programs and we
can start to manage our way
through, we expect we will
see prices come back – not all
the way, but back to pre-plant
closure levels," he says.
Doing nothing is not an
option. It would cost the
industry $500 million over the
next few months. Providing
immediate, short-term
support would contribute to
$350 million in economic
activity through improved
prices and eliminate the need
for long-term supports.
Laycraft says he is optimistic about the future.
“Heading into 2020, we were expecting
substantial increases in our export sales as a result
of the CP-TPP [trade agreement] and recovering our
access into China, he notes. When we get through
this, we believe Canada is well-positioned as one of
the leading suppliers of high-quality beef in the
world and we believe our industry can be one of the
engines of recovery for our economy.
Cattle associations are lobbying federal and provincial governments to throw their producers a lifeline in the
wake of plant closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic. FILE PHOTO / LIZ TWAN
Island farmers
renew request
for local abattoir
Demand for local meat,
shutdowns spur new push
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 23
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by TOM WALKER
PORT ALBERNI – The
Alberni Farmers’ Institute is
renewing a request to have
the Alberni-Clayoquot
Regional District (ACRD)
designated a Class D and E
licensing area under BC’s
Meat Inspection Regulation.
The regional district rst
made a formal application to
the government back in 2017,
says Lisa Aylard, president of
the Alberni Farmers’ Institute.
They sent a follow-up
request last September
during the provinces
consultation with regional
districts about Class D
slaughter licences as part of
their on-going contact with
the government over this
issue. But no decision has
been made.
ACRD lacks an A or B-class
processing plant for red meat.
The recent closure of Plecas
Meats in Nanaimo means the
closest provincially licensed
abattoir to Port Alberni is 103
km away in Courtenay. The
next closest is in Duncan, 134
km away.
Aylard says the COVID-19
crisis has just made the
situation worse.
Travelling that far is not
acceptable for health and
safety reasons, she says. We
are seeing an increase in
consumers wanting to
purchase local meat during
this time and producers in our
region are facing an unfair
economic hurdle to have to
travel away and back to
provide meat for those
customers.
Paying someone else to
process animals means less
prot for small farmers.
We have lost a lot of local
agriculture because of this,
says Aylard. There used to be
a lot of people in the valley
who had one or two cows.
While the number of
animals in the area doesn’t
warrant a Class A facility, she
says a Class D plant could go
a long way to encourage
more meat production.
Aordable land in the
Alberni Valley is attracting
new farmers.
We have these young
people in our farmers’
institute that are all gung-ho
and then they get hit with
these regulations [against on-
farm slaughter, says Aylard.
Increased demand
The lack of a local abattoir
was highlighted as a barrier to
development of the regional
livestock industry in the ACRD
agriculture plan drafted in
2011. A feasibility study for a
Class A plant for red meat in
2016 highlighted many
benets but the community
said it was not feasible due to
a lack of funding,
management and inadequate
production volume.
But demand remains, and
has even increased.
The lack of access to red
meat slaughter services has
been a key roadblock to
sustaining livestock
production within our region,
the ACRD told BC agriculture
minister Lana Popham last
September. ”Our producers
are suering due to the
competitive disadvantage of
having to transport out of the
region and the lack of access
to services.
What we need is the
ability to do on-farm
slaughter the way farmers
always have, says Aylard.
When the regulations
changed after BSE, it took
away our control and our
ability to make economic
development on local farms.
She is not opposed to a
change to provincial
inspection for remote
facilities.
“If they can do long-
distance support for remote
medical surgery, I’m sure we
can put something in place
for animal processing, she
says.
The lack of government
response to the issue is
frustrating.
The wheels on the bus are
turning awfully slowly, says
Aylard.
The closure of Plecas Meats in Nanaimo means one less abattoir option among already too few for
Vancouver Island farmers. Rod Plecas, left, with Susan Toth and butcher Brad Lester, retired at the end of
March, closing the doors on the plant his dad started back in 1962. The last slaughter day was March 16.
PHOTO / BOB COLLINS
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24 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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by PETER MITHAM
LANGLEY – BC meat
processors have largely
continued to operate during
the COVID-19 pandemic,
despite shutdowns at two
federally inspected poultry
plants last month.
But shutdowns elsewhere
have put downward pressure
on prices, compounding the
impact of reduced demand
from foodservice buyers.
The tiny BC hog sector, for
example, has continued to
send more than 2,000 hogs a
week to the Johnstons and
Britco plants. Both operations
have kept running, adjusting
practices to keep workers
healthy and maintain
volumes despite reduced
staff numbers.
“Producers in the province,
as far as getting their hogs
processed, have had no
trouble, says Jack DeWit,
chair of the BC Hog
Marketing Commission.
But the shutdown of plants
in eastern Canada as well as
the US has cut processing
capacity and pushed down
hog prices. This in turn means
less cash for producers,
including those in BC.
The problem is the prices
have totally collapsed, DeWit
says. “Processors have a
formula that they base off of
the US price and they use it
right across this country.
According to Rick
Bergmann, chair of the
Canadian Pork Council, hog
prices have fallen by at least
30% since consumers’ first
rush of panic buying ended.
While initially it looked
like markets might
strengthen under consumers
panic buying in grocery
stores, markets have since
undergone some of the
fastest, deepest declines on
record as demand shifted
from foodservice to retail and
processors reduced capacity
or closed plants, says
Bergmann. “Producers across
our country expect to lose
approximately $675 million.
Individual producers are
expecting to lose about $30 a
hog for every hog marketed
this year.
Hogs currently in barns are
now virtually worthless, he
adds.
“[There’s] nothing to
secure debt against, he says.
Without emergency support,
they won’t be in a position to
repay the existing debt they
already have, let alone any
additional debt taken on
during the crisis.
The Canadian Pork Council
asked Ottawa on April 23 for
an emergency payment of
$20 a head to cover what
amounts to a cash-flow crisis.
The demand followed a
similar request from the
cattle industry a few days
earlier, which has also seen
market prices fall by more
than 30% in a matter of days
as key plants closed and
demand for fed cattle
collapsed.
Chicken producers enjoy a
shorter production cycle and
can be more adaptable. The
closure of United Poultrys
plant in Vancouver after
employees tested positive on
April 19 and positive test
results at Superior Poultry, its
sister plant in Coquitlam a
few days later, have not had a
significant impact on
producers or retail supplies.
That plant took just under
4% of our weekly production,
so as long as we don’t have
another plant going down,
we’ll be fine, says Bill
Vanderspek, chair of the BC
Chicken Marketing Board.
Physical distancing
measures and changes to
production practice have not
impacted processing
capacity, he adds.
However, chicken
producers have seen demand
from foodservice customers
collapse with the closure of
restaurants and hotels.
We figure we’re down in
the West about 7.5%, he says,
but noted that’s about half
the decline seen in Eastern
Canada. “Obviously, if you’re
producing 7.5% less, your net
income is going to be
reduced somewhat, but right
now were as close as we can
expect to be to business as
usual. There’s still high
demand for our product at
retail.
Nova Woodbury, chair of
the BC Association of
Abattoirs, understands that
many provincially licensed
plants have stepped up to
accommodate additional
product as necessary.
“My understanding is that
United Poultry also worked
on redistributing to other
plants, she says. “Producers
are finding that animals can
be processed locally, which is
good.
The challenges facing the
entire supply chain
underscore the need for
better strategies to support
meat processing in the
province, however.
There’s some strategies
that are going to have to be
developed more regionally
and nationally, Woodbury
says. We need to build a
strategy longer-term. … What
[the pandemic]’s hopefully
going to do is bring people
together.
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 25
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Direct marketing saves producers’ bacon
Online sales pick up the slack from restaurant, market closures
by TOM WALKER
FALKLAND – A stall at the
farmers market is a key
marketing strategy for many
small producers across the
province.
But what do you do if the
market is closed or greatly
reduced and your restaurant
clients shutter their doors? Its a
scenario many small farmers
across BC faced in March and
which is likely to endure for the
foreseeable future.
“In a period of several weeks
in March we lost probably 80%
of our usual delivery method to
get our product to customers,
says Lisa Dueck of Sterling
Springs Chicken in Falkland. “I
can’t underscore enough how
big a blow that was to our farm
and our business.
Dueck says her barn is full of
birds, as well as her freezer and
fridge, in anticipation of summer
farmers’ markets opening in
Kelowna and Vernon. She also
supplies winery restaurants
throughout the region, but both
her markets and restaurants
were shut down in March as
managers scrambled to navigate
public health orders.
All of that expense in and we
just had to pivot and try to nd
new methods of getting product
out, she says. We have been
successful at doing that and I am
super grateful that things have
come together the way they
have.
Sterling Springs has a farm
store along the highway in
Falkland and oers customers a
curbside pickup option.
“Retailers have picked up
where restaurants have fallen
o, Dueck adds, with a special
nod to Farm Bound Organics
Ltd., an organic food delivery
business in Vernon which
delivers to consumers across
central and northern BC. They
have been amazing at taking our
product and getting it out to
people. … Our overall sales
should have dropped
dramatically, but they haven’t.
Social media and a home-
grown order system have played
a big part.
“My sister took over our social
media about a year ago, says
Dueck. “So there was already the
ability to contact our customers
directly and they have been
absolutely amazing at nding
us.
Sterling Springs takes
e-mail and phone orders
through the week and has been
organizing pop-up locations to
Donning the required personal protective equipment, Stevie LaRoche of The Rock Eatery in Falkland has a
special delivery for Lisa Dueck of Sterling Springs Ranch, one of her suppliers. Dueck has been quick to
change her delivery model to keep Sterling Springs' chicken moving from farm to plate while restrictions
remain in place to ght COVID-19. SUBMITTED PHOTO / STERLING SPRINGS RANCH
See ONLINE on next page
o
26 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
deliver to its customers. They have found us
week after week even though we are in a
dierent spot each week, says Dueck. They
have been awesome.
Easy move
Upping online ordering was an easy move
for Spray Creek Ranch, which has been
growing that part of its business since 2018.
We are in the lucky position that in 2018
we introduced pre-ordering online, says
rancher Tristan Banwell. We prepack the
orders and deliver them at the farmers
market.
Spray Creek uses a sales platform
developed by Ontario-
based Local Line, which is
also assisting the BC
Association of Farmers’
Markets to help its
members go online.
By 2019, online orders
for direct-to-consumer
delivery accounted for
40% of Spray Creek’s sales
at markets in Lillooet,
Pemberton, Squamish
and Whistler. Walk-up
sales were around 40% and the remaining
20% were wholesale deliveries to bakeries,
restaurants, food trucks and other foodservice
customers.
This year, that 20% for wholesale has
completely gone, Banwell says. The farmers
markets, we are not totally clear on. The ones
we would participate in, and how and when
they will be operating is unclear, and varying
between the markets.
This means online orders will be even more
critical for Spray Creek.
“Customers go online to order and we have
added a second delivery date so we are twice
a month says Banwell. We wanted to allay
peoples fears, that its okay, we are coming.
Spray Creek’s drop-os in Pemberton,
Whistler and Squamish – all communities
where he normally attends farmers markets –
usually last an hour, with people lined up two
metres apart per public health orders. Just a
couple of customers from their last delivery of
120 orders did not prepay.
“I get their name, I pull out their order, I put
it on the table, I step back and they step up
and take their order, he says.
Dueck has a similar system. Customers take
a number when they arrive at her truck and
she grabs their order when their number
comes up.
Both Dueck and Banwell say social
distancing protocols have not been a
problem.
“People are respecting all of that and they
are doing it themselves, says Banwell. We
haven’t had to go around and prompt people.
Does this mean farmers markets’ aren’t
necessary for their business? Dueck says that
they have secured a spot as one of the 15
food-only vendors at the Kelowna market, and
they will also be at the Vernon market.
Banwell isn’t so sure.
We are watching what farmers’ markets are
doing, he says. “But I think we are not going to
be attending farmers’ markets this year. We are
going to continue with our drop model.
He points out that the social aspect of
markets has disappeared with the distancing
requirements. People can’t stop and chat with
the vendor, or with friends. They have to move
on.
“Given the loss of that kind of experience, it
will be easier for our customers to get their
food at a drop point, says Banwell. “If they
have taken the initiative to pre-order, they
shouldn’t have to wait in the line-up to get
into the farmers market.
The social aspect has transferred to online
as well.
We are maintaining that kind of
connection and story with our customers by
increasing the number of blog posts we are
doing, says Banwell. We are out there on
social media and sending our e-mail news
letter.
Dueck acknowledges the social aspect of a
farmers’ market, but says their real purpose is
to distribute local food. This isn’t recognized
by cities, she says.
We are going to have to really rethink the
importance of the local food structure and
make that more of a priority, she says, noting
that market managers have been doing a
great job advocating for their markets. They
have been working their tail o to try to get
the channels open again.
Both vendors say their online direct-to-
customer sales are working for them.
“Even with the loss of all these other venues
our March sales were equivalent to the sales
we do in September and October, says
Banwell.
Things are not going to be the same
moving forward, says Dueck. “I hope that we
can put something in place that will allow us
to continue local food distribution to avoid
this happening again.
I get their name, I pull out their order,
I put it on the table, I step back and
they step up and take their order.
Tristan Banwell,
Spray Creek Ranch
ONLINE orders surge nfrom page 25
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Kendall Ballantine spoke to BC Association of Farmers Markets members about her success with online direct
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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 27
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by PETER MITHAM
LANGLEY – The past two
years have seen online
grocery options explode in
Canada. Loblaw Cos. Ltd., for
example, doubled the reach
of its PCexpress ordering and
pickup service in 2018 after
entering a partnership with
US-based sales platform
Instacart.
According to Kendall
Ballantine, who began raising
meat at Central Park Farms in
Langley after a successful
marketing career with major
beverage companies, 17.5% of
Canadians shopped for
groceries online in 2019, and
another 52.4% were open to
doing so.
“You’ve got people like
Save-on-Foods that are
putting a lot of money into
promoting that for people,
she told the annual
conference of the BC
Association of Farmers
Markets in Harrison Hot
Spring at the beginning of
March. “So lets ride their
marketing and get people
doing it.
A few days after her
presentation, restrictions to
limit the spread of COVID-19
kicked in and, after a surge of
panic buying for staples,
people began ordering
online, overwhelming
systems.
According to Angus Reid,
just 10% of shoppers ordered
groceries online the week
ended March 16; two weeks
later, the proportion had leapt
to 17%, and showed no signs
of slowing down as people
avoided public spaces.
“Its moving a lot, says food
industry analyst Sylvain
Charlebois of the Agrifood
Analytics Lab at Dalhousie
University. We’re creatures of
habit, but I suspect that
because of the length of this
crisis, some new habits will
prevail.
Ballantine is prepared. A
health scare in 2019
prompted her to scale back
her presence at farmers
markets and streamline her
sales process. She went from
six markets a week to two,
and focused on online orders
so she could manage demand
and make sure customers got
what they wanted. By the end
of the year, she had rung up
$180,000 in online orders, in
addition to on-site sales.
“It was really hard to gure
out who was going to want
which product on which days,
she says. “By giving people
the option to pre-order and
pick up at the farmers’ market,
not only did I have
guaranteed revenue, … I also
knew what people wanted, so
our die-hard customers
weren’t showing up at the
market and not getting what
they wanted.
Ballantine uses
SquareSpace as her
e-commerce platform. It lets
customers customize orders
while giving her insights into
what’s selling, whos buying
and how to improve her
oerings.
“It gives me the data to
make smart choices in my
business, she says. “It also
helps me gure out, if we sold
a lot of chicken breasts online,
I may not need to bring as
much chicken breasts to the
market that day for live, on-
the-spot sales because I know
a lot of people already bought
it online.
She sets a deadline of
midnight Thursday for orders.
People select from the more
than 90 items she oers,
including cuts of beef, pork
and chicken, as well as eggs
and 14 types of sausage. Her
mother assembles the orders
on Friday for pick-up at
markets on Saturday and
Sunday.
“Her Friday covers the
equivalent of what we were
doing at four other farmers
markets, so it’s worth it for us,
hands-down, she says. “But its
a lot to pack in a single day.
While she would have
made the deadline a day
earlier in retrospect, theres no
doubt that managing orders,
inventory and demand has
become a lot more
manageable.
“I want as many people
ordering online as possible,
she says. “It makes it easier for
me when I go to Vancouver
and I have to try and t all
that stu into [a] 10 x 10
[stall], and it also kills my line-
up.
Ballantine paces orders,
however, by tightly
controlling the inventory
released for online sale. This
helps manage the sorting and
packing of product for each
order, and a more even ow
from gate to plate.
What we do is put
inventory online, less of it,
more often, she says, giving
the example of one of her
top-selling items, chicken
breasts. We will have at most
20 to 25 packages of chicken
breast online at any one time.
She maintains a separate
inventory for on-site sales at
farmers markets. This allows
for a dedicated product
assortment for online
customers, but also helps her
track what’s actually being
sold at each market.
While she attempts to
maintain parity in pricing
between online and on-site
sales at markets, she candidly
says it was the one area where
she had to rejig the system.
“Pricing was the number-
one mistake that we made,
she says. We did some
rejigging of our pricing in the
spring, and I at-rated as
much as I could.
Sausages, ground beef and
anything where the size is
standard, she sells with a per-
item price rather than by
weight. Chickens are still sold
by weight, she says, but even
this might change.
We may need to do a
small chicken and a medium
chicken and a large chicken,
she says.
To manage both pricing
and inventory control, she
recommended that producers
consider a bulk box that lets
customers order an
assortment of products for a
set price.
Central Parks boxes oer a
mix of premium items
rounded out with ones that
may be in oversupply. (“If you
buy a mixed meat box from
me, youre getting chicken
wings, she quips.) She oered
two options, one at $150 and
another at $300.
The result has paid o, not
only online but at the market.
We have grown at the
market level and at the online
level, she says. The more we
can get people into a business
model like this, the more it
draws people to the market
that maybe wouldn’t have
shopped at the market
before.
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CHILLIWACK – As essential
businesses, BC’s farm
equipment dealers are
adapting to the challenges
COVID-19 has created for
agriculture and keeping their
doors open.
Bevan Jones, branch
manager at Rollins Machinery
in Chilliwack, says the
dealerships parts and service
department has seen normal
levels of activity.
“People are somewhat
isolated on the farm and
farmers are basically
optimistic people so they just
keep going, he says. “Our
plan is to remain open as
long as we can, as long as our
sta are well.
Rollins sells and services
New Holland, Supreme,
Pottinger and Anderson
equipment. The business has
plexiglassed service counters,
put in place six-foot
separations between
customers and removed the
common coee maker and
water dispenser. Its also
placing parts orders outside
for customers to pick up.
To mitigate risk, all service
vehicles are now o the main
yard so they can be available
should the operation have to
close to the public.
Jones noted a dip in
overall new equipment sales,
but that could also be due to
a cool, slow spring. He’s heard
about equipment
manufacturing plants being
shut down in Italy, Turkey and
Britain due to COVID-19
stang issues, which could
lead to a cutback in
availability of new
equipment, but retail orders
that were in place are being
observed rst and he’s
hoping that parts remain
available and a priority.
Jones doesn’t have a
crystal ball but he doesn’t
expect restrictions to be lifted
until May at the earliest.
PrairieCoast Equipment,
which exclusively represents
John Deere, has a broader
view of COVID-19 impacts by
region and sector since its 10
locations across BC and
northern Alberta serve dairy,
grain, ranchers, vineyards,
orchards and other
producers.
Company general manager
JD Frame says PrairieCoasts
safety committee formed a
group that began meeting
every day by phone in early
March to discuss how to keep
its company’s solid safety
record and its just under 300
employees safe during the
pandemic. The daily
discussions continue.
“It started with protecting
frontline employees – things
like specic wipe-down
procedures and check lists,
explains Frame, adding that
social distancing and other
measures to prevent the
spread of COVID-19 are in
place.
Were really trying hard to
remain open and remain
business-as-usual but we
decided to close Saturdays to
give sta a break, he says.
Three years ago, the
business launched an online
service centre to help
customers install parts or
troubleshoot issues.
Customers can also order
parts and pay online through
the service. The volume of
business being conducted
this way has jumped by more
than 15% recently.
Supportive
John Deere has been very
supportive, says Frame.
While I think they have been
challenged on labour at
distribution points, we’ve had
no issues so far – no
shortages of supply or
change to shipping.
Frame says after ve solid
years in agriculture, the
business has grown as a
result of producers having
money to buy rather than
repair and replace. But in the
Peace region, low oil prices
have had a big impact on
retail spending so they are
also watching that scenario
as well, particularly with
smaller pieces of equipment
like mowers. Dairy producers
say their sector is solid and
grain producers were seeing
product move to market with
upward pressure on wheat,
canola and pea prices.
We might be a bit
concerned if options to
nance become limited. We
do a lot of business through
[Farm Credit Canada] and
John Deere Financial so they
are doing what they can to
help people, he says.
While the pandemic means
uncertain times, farmers are
used to dealing with unknowns.
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“Farmers are used to these
challenges. They live weather.
They live disease. Farmers are
more adaptable because
something is coming at them
all the time, he says.
Frame says a few
employees have accepted a
voluntary layo in the
interests of their health and
family commitments. It hasn’t
left him short-staed, but hes
doing everything he can to
protect positions because he
believes that when the sector
and economy turn up, it will
do so quite quickly.
“Our message to our
employees is that the world
needs food. Our customers
provide the world food and
we support our customers in
doing so, he says.
Challenging
Chris Britten, co-owner and
operations manager at
Avenue Machinery in
Abbotsford, says he was
preparing for a slower year
and reduced revenue before
COVID-19 hit, noting an
abundance of used
equipment on the market.
While still early in the season and hoping for a
better fall, Brittens hands were full at the end of
March. Not only did the three stores – two in the
Okanagan and one on the coast – have to make
accommodations like installing plexiglass to
protect frontline workers – hes also challenged
with about 10% of his sta o, concerned for their
own health.
“Yes, its only 10% but they are skilled employees
so we need them, and there isn’t an overwhelming
supply of people in the labour market who can do
their jobs, so it’s been tough, says Britten.
Were managing but it is denitely dicult, he
comments.
The eects of the pandemic are even being felt
in parts of the province with
relatively low infection
counts.
A quarter of the
employees at New Holland
dealer Butler Farm
Equipment in Fort St. John
were out of the country
when travel restrictions came
into place, and they needed
to self-isolate on their return.
Many farmers have also
been away, but as they return
to begin a new season, Butler
parts and administrative
manager Miranda Braun says
the dealership is asking them
to be mindful of their own
health and that of the
dealerships sta.
We have signage on the
door to ask people who have
travelled or don’t feel well to
not come in, she says. We
have no face shields because
I have two computer
monitors so customers can
see transactions and we don’t
have to be more than six feet
close.
Customers often show sta
the parts they need with their
cell phones but Braun plans
to have people e-mail those
instead this spring.
All the dealers say the safety of their sta is their
top priority, followed by customer safety.
We’ve told sta their job is secure, but its their
decision whether they are here or not, says Braun.
“But we are going to be here because agriculture is
essential.
PrairieCoast Equipment has cut back on opening Saturdays to give employees a break from the stress of dealing
with new operating procedures due to the COVID-19 outbreak. PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
Members of the BC Strawberry Growers Association will be looking to government for assistance if marketing
challenges push prices below the cost of production. FILE PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 31
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ABBOTSFORD – BC
strawberry growers
unanimously approved an
increase to the per-pound
levy paid on fruit to 0.75 cents
from 0.5 cents at their annual
meeting on April 9.
The increase is the rst in
recent memory, and will help
the BC Strawberry Growers
Association cover a persistent
decit in its annual budget.
“I think we’ve got to
increase it. I don’t know what
else to do. We’ve got to keep
the association going, said
association president Ed
McKim prior to members
voting on increasing the levy
during a videoconference that
took the place of the
traditional in-person meeting.
Of the association’s 50-plus
members, 11 took part.
The levy will apply to all
berries, whether fresh or
processed.
We haven’t had an
increase for 35, 40 years, said
association vice-president Alf
Krause.
“Maybe 50
years.
The 2020
budget
presented
to members
estimated
expenses at
$220,000
and income
of $179,000.
This
years
shortfall will
be covered
by a $26,000
surplus from
last year, a
result of
expenses
coming in
less than
expected,
and the
increase in the 2020 levy that
could amount to $18,000 if
yields remain similar to 2019.
Association members
harvested more than 2.4
million pounds of berries last
year, of which more than
55,700 pounds went for
processing.
An additional 340,000
pounds of fruit was harvested
and sold fresh by non-
member growers, according
to Statistics Canada. Levies are
only applied to berries
harvested by member
growers.
Members also approved
changing the processed berry
licensing requirement to
apply only to those growers
and processors packing 30
tons or more of fruit.
Currently, all growers and
packers of processed berries
are required to pay the $1,000
licence fee collected by the BC
Vegetable Marketing
Commission. The change was
drafted by the commission
and the association in an
attempt to reduce paperwork.
The commission approved the
change at its meeting in late
April.
Rhonda Driediger noted
that paperwork associated
with the licences is a
“ridiculous burden.
We are at record lows for
processing, she says. “It
removes the hassle, so thats
good.
COVID-19 restrictions are
creating challenges for the
associations research
programs. Some research
facilities are closed or have
limited access and the
associations research director
Eric Gerbrandt says it’s tough
to keep the programs
running.
Were doing everything we
can to protect the plant
material, keep the program
moving forward and salvage
as much as we can, he says.
Several growers expressed
concerns regarding access to
labour this season.
Regulations are tighter and
costs will be higher for the
foreign workers they’re used
to hiring.
Driediger says the labour
situation is changing daily but
she expects a ton of
unskilled locals looking for
work.
“Its going to be crappy.
They may show up for ve
days and not show up again,
she says.
Driediger is also concerned
at the nancial toll of public
health restrictions on farms.
Growers have access to
operating loans, but what
they’ll need as the season gets
underway is cash ow. She
doesn’t expect that in the rst
half of the season.
“Unfortunately, berries are a
luxury item, Driediger said.
Any stored crop has great
sales, but anything people
don’t see as
necessary is
falling at. Its a
tough
situation.
Hopefully, by
July/August it
changes.
She noted
that freezing is
an option for
strawberries if
fresh sales fall
short.
However,
pricing for
both fresh and
frozen fruit is
hard to predict
at this point.
We are
looking to
government,
she says for
subsidies or
other initiatives to help with
pricing if needed.
“If [the government is]
doling out money to airlines
and everyone else, we feed
people; we should get the
same incentives, she says.
Strawberry association
manager Lisa Craig noted
public perception of farm
practices, particularly around
labour, is also an emerging
issue. A consumer recently
called her concerned about
workers sitting together on a
bus without the
recommended six-foot
separation.
She advised growers to
have hand-washing stations
and glove changes outside
the bus and to be prepared to
explain to farm visitors the
protocols theyre following.
For example, they may need
to explain that workers
travelling together also live
together.
Board members Krause,
Dave Khakh and Mike Lepp let
their names stand for a further
term, and were returned by
acclamation.
Strawberry growers pin survival on levies
Association turns to members to
cover deficit
Blueberry and raspberry
AGMs postponed
While the BC Strawberry Growers Association
proceeded with its annual general meeting by
videoconference, the Raspberry Industry Development
Council and BC Blueberry Council have deferred their
annual general meetings as a result of event restrictions
imposed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Blueberry council chair Jack Bates says the large
number required for a quorum make a conference call
too dicult.
“Its probably going to be delayed to the fall, he says.
We usually have a grower meeting in October so that
may be the AGM.
The raspberry council’s board also opted to defer its
annual meeting of members.
“For now, we’re just postponing it, says chair James
Bergen. Were in unprecedented circumstances.
32 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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by PETER MITHAM
ABBOTSFORD – Growers who focus on
producing top-quality raspberries could
have an edge this year as buyers shy away
from suppliers providing low-quality fruit.
We’ve been hearing some rumours
that some of the companies that have
tried to cheap out on their ingredients are
seeing signicant customer complaints,
Ben Klootwyk of Pacic Coast Fruit
Products Ltd. in Abbotsford told growers
at the Pacic Agriculture Show in January.
This could possibly mean we’ll see a step
back towards more quality ingredients –
typically what we supply here in the
Pacic Northwest.
This means that the year ahead could
see higher prices paid to growers,
particularly for fruit destined for the fresh
and individually quick frozen (IQF)
market.
“Going into 2020 and 2021, more
development will be needed for the
higher-prot market such as the fresh and
IQF, he said.
Berries processed for purées and juices
will see lower pricing, as the juice market
has attened.
This was most likely due to a larger food trend
that were seeing where people are moving away
from processed foods and more into fresh and
frozen, simply due to perceived health benets and
less sugar, said Klootwyk
Overall demand for raspberries last year rose
2.6% for conventional fruit and 2.2% for organic, he
said. Yet recent years have seen raspberry
production drop in BC, and 2019 was no exception.
BC produced 6,789 tonnes in 2019, according to
Statistics Canada, or 76% of the national harvest.
“It was a cool summer with some rain events …
but other than that the harvest began at the usual
dates, said Klootwyk. Volume-wise, as any grower
will tell you here, the Pacic Northwest was down
compared to the last three years.
BC took the greatest hit, with volumes down 25%
versus 2018. This wasn’t a bad thing, however, as
the large 2018 crop gave buyers plenty of options
in 2019. This led to what Klootwyk
described as “more or less a clean-up
year.
He expects very little carryover from
last year as the new season gets
underway and opportunities open up for
fresh market sales and healthier options,
two trends underway even before COVID-
19 put a spotlight on local food sources.
While raspberry production is down
signicantly from 2009, dropping 36% in
BC and 29% nationally, the fresh market
has proved more resilient than the
processing market.
Nationally, raspberries sent for
processing have declined by 30% over
the past decade, says Farid Makki, a fruit
sector specialist in the market and
industry services branch with Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada in Burnaby. Over
the same period, fresh market production
has increased by 20%.
The decline in processing volumes has
been countered with imports, Makki
explains, noting that Canada imported
11,909 tonnes of frozen raspberries worth
$46 million in 2018.
But growers for the fresh market also
face sti competition, even as this remains a bright
segment of the market for domestic farms. Canada
imported 28,335 tonnes of fresh raspberries in
2018; 55% came from Mexico and 44% from the US.
These imports meet 90% of domestic demand for
fresh raspberries.
The good thing is that demand for raspberries
has been going up and continues to grow, says
Makki. There’s still signicant potential to ll
demand from the fresh market.
Raspberry growers target fresh market, quality
Growing demand is a plus for local growers despite competition from imports
FILE PHOTO
A new generation adds value to
create opportunities
Avi Gill shows off his signature apple soda inside his family’s on-farm production and tasting room PHOTO /
MYRNA STARK LEADER
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 33
Farm and Rural
Residential
Properties
in the Peace
Country are
our specialty
Anne H. Clayton
MBA, AACI P App, RI
Appraiser
Judi Leeming
BHE, AIC Candidate
250.782.1088
info@aspengrovepropertyservices.ca
by MYRNA STARK LEADER
KELOWNA – At 28, Avi Gill
recognizes the need to do
things dierently to keep his
familys 26-year tradition of
growing Okanagan apples
and cherries protable. While
production improvements are
on-going and have helped
increase the crops value, Gill
has turned his attention to
adding value to apples, which
continue to face price
challenges.
Born in Penticton to
parents who emigrated to
Canada from India, Gill was
raised on the familys farm in
Kelowna but left for university
and completed a science and
pharmacy degree at UBC in
2016. He managed a drug
store in Kelowna for about 18
months before returning to
the orchard.
The operation had grown
from a single property of 20
acres in 1994 to an assortment
of owned and leased properties
encompassing 150 acres,
largely in southeast Kelowna.
We sat down as a family at
the end of 2017 to talk about
succession planning and how
we can help build on the
existing business. We decided
that because of commodity
prices and limited control of
them, we should make value
added fruit products, says Gill.
He started making apple
juice but it didn’t take long for
another idea to evolve,
formulating an apple soda
made from pure apple juice.
Anthony Lewis, co-founder of
the Vibrant Vine Winery, was a
major contributor in realizing
the vision.
The concept is one apple
per can, water and
carbonation with no added
avours or colour. Gill says
retailers tell him the drink is
the rst of its kind.
We’ve tried to keep it very
simple and healthy. Rather
than using many apples to
make one cup of juice, our
drink has the equivalent of
juice from one apple making
it lower calorie than juice, but
adding the zz people crave.
At 50 calories a can, we say its
like eating an apple in a
dierent way, explains Gill.
The new brand, Farming
Karma Fruit Co., honours Gill’s
dad, Karma Gill. Karma is well-
recognized among Kelowna’s
tree fruit growers and has
served as a director of the BC
Fruit Growers Association and
the BC Tree Fruits Cooperative,
among other organizations.
Avi Gill hasn’t fallen far from
the tree. This spring, he
became a BCFGA director. He
also serves on Kelownas
agricultural advisory
committee. He recognizes the
need to stay in touch with
what’s going on in the bigger
picture.
The past two years have
seen the Gill family purchase a
juice press from Austria, a
canning line, and create a
tasting room on the farm to
rival the Okanagan’s many
wineries. Guests can view the
apples being juiced, as well as
the canning line.
We wanted to make this
like a winery for kids – a non-
alcoholic place. We’ve
converted our existing fruit
stand on McKenzie Rd. into a
cool place where kids can
learn about agriculture ... Our
slogans are Do Good and
Freedom, Family and Fun, the
things we value here, he says.
Family affair
Gill says help from his dad,
mom Kuku, wife of three years
Binny, and brother Sumeet
have been instrumental in
getting the project going.
He met Binny through the
UBC Bhangra Club. He’s a
singer with YouTube videos.
Shes a dancer with an
engineering background
whos now working for Bank
of Montreal as a relationship
manager in the agriculture
sector.
“She knows more about
agriculture than I do, laughs
Gill, who is quick to praise his
wife and other family members
contributions to the business.
His brother Sumeet is in
England nishing up a
physiotherapy degree but Gill
says the farm might draw him
back as well. Sumeet has
played a huge role in Farming
Karma’s marketing direction.
Farming Karma sold its
soda at the Kelowna Farmers
Market last year and retailers
have picked it up. Its now
found in 400 stores across BC,
including Independent in
Kelowna as well as locations
of Safeway, Save-On-Foods
and Nesters. With the
potential loss of farm visitors
as a result of COVID-19, its
begun selling the soda online
through Amazon.
Gill credits the time they’ve
spent working on branding.
“Succession is a big issue in
the tree-fruit industry and I
feel like value-adding is one of
the things that may draw the
next generation into ag. I
know a lot of young people
who are into wineries and part
of that is the possibilities it
creates like getting your own
bottle style, marketing how
you want and how your
product is unique, he says. “Its
more exciting to them than
just the growing.
While it’s been a lot of work
to create the product and
establish the market, the
family now faces the bigger
challenge of getting
consumers to try something
new in a saturated market.
One step at a time
Gill isn’t discouraged,
though. Farming Karma has
created a craft cider kit so a
person can turn two litres of
juice into hard apple cider in
just six days. A new cherry
soda is another possibility, but
hes taking it one step at a
time.
He says nding local
expertise in the value-added
industry and specically in the
juice industry was more of a
challenge than he thought it
should be. He would like to
see a local lab where producers
could test new recipes.
While his pharmacy training
was helpful in creating a safe
and top-quality product, he
worked with a Toronto
consultant to ensure he was
following best practices.
“I’m very inexperienced at
this stu, he says. “It is
encouraging when I’m told by
the outside, more experienced
people that they think we
have a good product and
have it together.
For now, the company will
concentrate on growing the
BC market but Gill hasn’t ruled
out national and international
sales.
We believe we are a
category leader, so if an
opportunity came our way, we
would be all over it, he said.
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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 35
Chilliwack family cracks open direct sales
The Egg Shack
expands to
roadside sales
The Boer family are proud to provide their organic free range eggs sold from a fully automated egg vending machine at their Chilliwack farm. To
view the vending machine visit www.countrylifeinbc.com. PHOTO / BRIGHTSIDE POULTRY
by JACKIE PEARASE
CHILLIWACK – A foray into
farmgate egg sales using an
automated, cashless vending
machine is proving
advantageous for Brightside
Poultry in Chilliwack.
Richard and Jacqueline
Boer have the rst farm in
North America to use the egg
vending machine, made by
Roesler Vending in Germany.
Launched last September,
the option to buy local,
organic free-range eggs by
tap, debit or credit from a
machine has increased in
popularity since the COVID-19
pandemic ushered in social
distancing and no-touch
transactions.
The virus has been good
to our on-farm vending
business. I think were one of
the few types of businesses
that are able to say that,
notes Jacqueline Boer. We
were selling only about 1%
from the farm gate but right
now were up to about 15%.
She says that on March 15,
as panic buying set in after BC
began restricting public
gatherings, they sold 50% of
the eggs in their barn.
Brightside is located on
Evans Road, and the Boers
always wanted to capitalize
on the large volume of trac
that passes by their third-
generation farm.
We’ve always wanted to
market what we’re producing
from the farm gate, Boer says.
We chose not to go the dairy
route because we don’t want
to process dairy. But because
theres so much less
processing involved with
eggs, this is our chance to get
our feet wet in retailing.
In addition to eggs, the
farm sustains a dairy
operation started in the 1950s
and the Boers added broilers
in 2013 after winning the new
entrant broiler quota lottery.
The couple purchased a
layer quota in 2016, added
4,000 laying hens to the farm
in 2017 and currently have a
ock of about 7,500 birds. A
new barn constructed in 2019
has room for up to 16,000
birds.
In November 2018, they
went to EuroTier, a trade show
for livestock producers in
Hanover, Germany, to
purchase equipment for the
new barn. They looked at
several types of vending
machines, widely used for hot
and cold products in Europe,
and ended up purchasing
one.
The machine can be
congured to accommodate
dierent-sized items. The
Boers sell dozens, double-
dozens and ats from The Egg
Shack, located in the new
barn that is purposely cooled
for the eggs.
Boer says they did not
intend on selling products
other than eggs from the
vending machine but that
may change if consumer
demand for local food
continues after the pandemic
and grows.
“Our perspective has
changed through this COVID
thing; we may look at some
other options down the road.
It wasn’t really our intent
when we set up, she says.
There’s a renewed level of
public trust with farmers right
now. Two months ago, the
public didn’t trust us and now,
all of a sudden, were a pillar
in the community, providing
fresh local food.
The machine was a
signicant investment and
the Boers applied for and
received partial funding from
the Canadian Agricultural
Partnership through the
Investment Agriculture
Foundation of BC.
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EFB-resistant trees not out of the woods
New varieties of hazelnut trees overcome old issues but face new risks
36 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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by BARBARA JOHNSTONE GRIMMER
ABBOTSFORD – Hazelnut growers must step up
surveillance of their new orchards to keep ahead of
emerging diseases, according to BC Ministry of
Agriculture plant pathologist Siva Sabaratnam.
A three-year study emphasizing the importance
of prevention, surveillance and mitigation of
emerging diseases that are aecting hazelnut
orchards in the Fraser Valley was presented to
prospective and established hazelnut growers at
the Pacic Agriculture Show in January.
Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) devastated the
orchards after its introduction to BC in 2003,
eventually infecting and killing trees throughout the
Fraser Valley. Many of the orchards have been
replanted with EFB-resistant varieties developed by
the University of Oregon and imported as tissue-
culture clones.
The EFB-resistant orchards are relatively new,
with plantings started in 2011 as part of a cultivar
trial.
“In 2016, the new disease problems were rst on
our radar, says Sabaratnam.
Thomas O’Dell of Nature Tech Nursery was
conducting a hazelnut cultivar trial with EFB-
resistant trees grown from tissue culture in 2010.
Trees planted in 2011 and 2013 were evaluated for
performance, disease resistance, pollen shed and
owering.
O’Dell reported that in the winter of 2016,
damage was seen in several orchards not consistent
with EFB, and somewhat consistent with bacterial
blight. It was observed that catkins wouldn’t open
and there was some dieback, with some trees dying.
However, bacterial blight was not detected.
Sabaratnam and Ben Drugmand of the BC Plant
Health Laboratory in Abbotsford observed die back
of new EFB-resistant hazelnut trees in 2017 and
determined that it was not bacterial blight. A three-
year project to identify the causative agent of the
dieback has been underway with the EFB-resistant
varieties, funded by the Canadian Agricultural
Partnership.
Fieldwork was done to monitor orchards, assess
damage and identify the causal agent, conrm
pathogenicity and understand the epidemiology of
the disease cycle. In addition, the lab has been
working closely with growers to provide disease
prevention and management advice.
Walter Esau of Chilliwack was one of the growers
who was part of the initial plantings in 2011 and
2013. He removed an old EFB-susceptible orchard
and replanted with EFB-resistant varieties.
“Several years after planting, some of the trees
died o, says Esau. At rst we didn’t know what
caused it. Only a dozen or so were aected. Siva
became involved and identied it as phomopsis. I
pruned severely back, taking one to two feet o the
main stem and treated with copper spra
y. There is
no evidence of it this year.
Phomopsis, a fungal disease observed as far back
as 1936 in hazelnut trees in BC, has only recently
been observed in the newer varieties. It is known to
spread asexually by the rain and overhead
sprinklers. Trees and branches die back from the top
and tips.
Another emerging disease, phytophthora, causes
a “bleeding canker which starts in the roots and
moves up the trunk, eventually killing the tree. The
plant response is to produce sap and chocolate-
coloured moist lesions. This is an area of active
research.
Sabaratnam recommends that growers be
proactive and look for symptoms.
“It is important to prevent disease by planting
disease-free planting stock from a nursery with a
disease-free environment, stresses Sabaratnam.
“Call the lab and submit a sample so that we can
make a diagnosis. Prune and remove infected stems
and dead branches, prune well below the canker to
prevent spread. Sanitize pruning equipment
between each tree.
He advises spraying with fungicides as a
preventative measure, according to best practices.
Based on other crops, pesticides are being screened
for ecacy, evaluated and approved for use in
hazelnut orchards for these emerging diseases.
Work is ongoing to conrm the pathogens by
species and assess their pathogenicity, identify and
conrm the pathogens causing bleeding trunk
cankers, says Sabaratnam.
A recent paper from Oregon State University
outlined factors contributing to the emergence of
previously unrecognized trunk diseases in
hazelnuts. Reduced reliance on fungicides because
of EFB-resistance in the new trees has allowed new
fungal diseases to become established. Sun damage
and pruning can introduce pathogens. Heavy soils
which result in “wet feet” through the winter
months favour fungal diseases, especially
phytophthora. Climate change ma
y inuence plants
and pathogens.
Sabaratnam and Drugmand have developed a
close relationship with the growers as a result of this
work.
We are well connected with the hazelnut
growers association, says Sabaratnam. As a new
crop, the grower should be proactive and inspect
the eld periodically. Look for any abnormal
symptoms and contact the ministry if there are
problems. Management recommendations can be
made, and information exchanged through grower
meetings.
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 37
Distillery shows
resilience as it
adapts to market
COVID-19 creates opportunity
for Forbidden Spirits alcohol
Supervisor Richard Grasmuck helped make the switch from beverage to industrial alcohol production at
Forbidden Spirits Distillery in Kelowna. The alcohol is apple-based, and the demand for sanitizer has been
strong since the distillery started sharing some of its production with the public in mid-April. The rst
weekend, they gave away about 1,200 litres. PHOTO / MYRNA STARK LEADER
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KELOWNA – A retired
accountant from Vancouver
has given a mature orchard a
new lease on life with a vodka
that’s nding a niche in local
and international markets.
Blair Wilson and his wife
moved to southeast Kelowna
about 10 years ago after
several business ventures in
Vancouver and a career in
federal politics, including
sitting as the Green Party of
Canadas rst-ever MP. The
couple settled on a 20-acre
parcel that came with 6,000
Ambrosia and about 300
Spartan apple trees. Not one
to relax, Wilson took up
farming. The fruit was sold to
BC Tree Fruits Co-op.
“I never realized how hard
being a farmer is until then,
says Wilson, a self-proclaimed
entrepreneur.
When he saw the returns
he was getting for the fruit, he
decided there must be
another opportunity. He
explored making cider but
the cost of canning was
prohibitive. Instead, he settled
on vodka production after
chatting with a copper still
manufacturer at a whiskey
conference in Seattle.
He hired a chemist to
gure out the right
components for a winning
recipe, including a proprietary
yeast. Wilsons apples plus
apple concentrate from
Kelownas Sun-Rype juice
plant now underpin two
premium apple vodkas: Rebel,
which is distilled 25 times,
and Forbidden Spirits,
distilled 50 times. Added
distillations remove impurities
and create a smoother-tasting
end product.
Typical vodkas tend to be
distilled between three and
10 times, he explains.
It takes about 25 pounds of
apples make one 750-ml
bottle of Rebel.
Wilson opened a
production facility and tasting
room in 2019 and recently
received a lounge licence for
a 75-seat outdoor patio.
Additional tanks were added
this spring to accommodate
orders hed been working
hard to negotiate from the
European Union and China.
When you have a great-
tasting, quality product that's
made in Canada, foreigners
are willing to buy. They love
the Canadian reputation of
being safe and producing
things that are safe, clean, and
good for you, and that's
helped with marketing, he
says.
But exports demand
attention to details quite
dierent from the local
market.
“Each country and even
each port sometimes has
dierent rules about
importing alcohol, says
Wilson. “Navigating the
continually shifting sands of
economic politics and trade,
like Brexit, also takes
persistence and agility.
On the plus side, he says a
free trade agreement with
Europe means products from
Canada don’t face the 25%
tari that US products do.
Chinas palate for alcohol is
also changing from sweeter
to dryer, creating
opportunities there as well.
This spring, Wilson and his
wife were booked to be part
of a trade mission to South
Korea organized by the BC
government but it was
cancelled due to COVID-19.
That’s not the only change
in plans the distillery has
faced this spring.
In April, Forbidden Spirits
retooled its processing to
meet an emerging demand
brought about by COVID-19
for industrial-grade alcohol
for hand sanitizer, joining the
likes of Okanagan Spirits, Wise
Acre Distillery and others
across the province.
Wilson says the speed of
the approval process for the
switch amazed him. He put
his application in with the
federal government to
produce alcohol for sanitizer
one day and received a phone
call from them the next.
We have all the paperwork
done and the licences and
continue to work to source
bottles, which is the common
challenge. I’ve managed to
nd some in Kentucky, he
says.
Provincial regulations allow
production through July 15.
With the new business
model, including sanitizer
give-away days for the public,
Wilson hopes to at least break
even without the usual
tasting room trac and
overseas sales, both on hold
due to COVID-19.
With an estimated daily
production of 1,000 litres of
sanitizer, he looks forward to
rehiring sta laid o in early
March when normal business
halted. Hes thankful the
federal government is
providing a 75% subsidy for
small business wages to help
him make payroll and help
cover interim carrying and
operating costs during the
crisis.
While they are still selling
vodka locally, foreign orders
are on hold, but there is
vodka in tanks ready when
the crisis passes.
Wilson is also working to
put together a Canadian Craft
Spirit Association, a national
group that will lobby for
changes to the $3.51 federal
excise tax per bottle that craft
distillers have to pay when
producing limited quantities
using local Canadian
agriculture products.
countrylifeinbc.com
visit us online
38 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
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CAULIFLOWER POWER. West Coast Seeds general manager Alex Augustyniak says the company is gradually
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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 39
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DELTA – Those trying to
order seeds for their home
vegetable garden might be
waiting a while.
A surge in interest from
home gardeners facing the
prospect of a summer of
social distancing as a result of
measures to halt the spread
of COVID-19 has led to a rush
on vegetable seeds.
Last month, West Coast
Seeds Ltd. in Delta shut down
its phone lines to orders and
customer service, shuttered
its retail store and stopped
pickups from its warehouse to
keep employees safe and try
to manage backlogged
orders. There was a 30 to 45-
day delay on shipments in
mid-April.
General manager Alex
Augustyniak says the
company’s customers are split
almost evenly between
farmers and home gardeners.
We’ve got a boatload of
bulk stu for farmers, but
home gardeners don’t want a
50-pound bag of seed, he
says. We’ve got to get it into
smaller packaging.
But with physical
distancing requirements,
there are less sta lling
orders.
Were trying our best that
no one gets contaminated at
work, he says. We just see
the challenge of stang the
space to actually pack.
Handling seven to 10 times
more orders than usual with
fewer sta has been a
challenge, but Augustyniak
says they are beginning to get
caught up. Sta are working
around the clock to keep
orders moving, putting
commercial farmers rst.
“Farms, growers are a
priority for us. Because we
know they’ve got to get it in
the ground, he says. They
grow the food for the many.
There are plenty of seeds in
the pipeline. We have
exceptional supply and
demand.
Smaller-scale seed
producers like Simon Toole of
Good Earth Farms in Black
Creek are seeing similar sales
increases. While some
producers bemoaned the loss
of events like Seedy Saturdays
to COVID-19, those with more
diverse sales channels have
hardly had time to think
about it.
We always like to have a
good cache of [seeds] in the
basement, but it’s nice to see
them go, too, he says. We’ve
never had such empty
shelves.
Toole has been able to sell
seeds at the Comox Valley
Farmers Market, which moved
to a larger outdoor location to
ensure physical distancing
standards could be met. The
company also sells seeds
through the BC Eco Seed
Co-op, a few local stores and
online through its website.
“Its a bit weird, honestly,
because you want to
celebrate success, but in this
case, it’s not really an
appropriate time to celebrate,
he says. “Most days, I want to
believe that this will hopefully
awaken people to where their
food comes from.
The question of food
security is a familiar one for
Kent Mullinix, director of the
Institute for Sustainable Food
Systems at Kwantlen
Polytechnic University in
Richmond. The small-scale
farmers he works with have
begun to respond to the need
for greater access to local
food, an ambition of the BC
Eco Seed Co-op, too.
They are already seeing
the need to ramp up
production. They accept
responsibility for producing
food for their communities,
he says of local growers. They
are working to reach people,
get their food to people and
enable people to reach them.
The rise of local seed sales
masks the ip side of the
restaurant closures that have
hurt many small growers.
Since consumers are counting
on eating out less, they’ve
been exploring growing their
own niche veggies. Toole, like
Mullinix, hopes the crisis will
plant a seed that will yield
long-term interest among
consumers in growing their
own food.
“Its nice to see seeds
respected and they’re in
demand and it’s easier to sell
them, he says. There just
seems to be good, universal
demand across the board. In
the 16 years that I’ve done
the farmers’ markets, I’ve
never had a line up. Now, I
have line-ups.
Home gardeners overwhelm seed companies
Suppliers put farming and food
security first as they fill orders
Commercial seed supply unaffected
While many seed companies that supply vegetable growers have had to put retail sales
on hold, forage seed has been held up by transportation issues.
“In some situations, they haven’t been able to nd the trucks, says Bill Awmack, sales
manager with forage and turf seed company Quality Seeds West. We ran into some
problems moving some stu out of Eastern Canada earlier.
But even minimal delays might prompt forage producers to opt for a dierent planting
mix this year.
“Uncertainty is what it comes down to, says Awmack. “It could be that some of the stu
is delayed for a year as opposed to a week or two weeks. Some people might not farm the
way they did in the past.
The current uncertainties, particularly around trucking and delivery schedules,
underscore the weak points in Canadas supply chain. While everything was running
smoothly for Awmack in mid-April, he isn’t taking it for granted.
Were shipping seed as normally as we can, says Awmack. “It would take very little for
that to be disrupted entirely. Right now things are moving. Tomorrow, I have no idea.
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40 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
The COVID-19 pandemic
has brought viruses sharply
and frighteningly into focus.
But as much as the novel
coronavirus is cause for
understandable alarm, viruses
are the most common and
widespread biological entity
on the planet. Moreover, only
a handful are actually
pathogenic.
Research on viruses has
been underway at Agriculture
and Agri-Food Canada where
Dr. Julie Brassard, a research
scientist in food virology, has
been working primarily on
digestive viruses.
“My virology research
program focuses primarily on
viruses that infect the
digestive system,
namely enteric
viruses such as
human norovirus,
rotavirus,
hepatitis A virus
and hepatitis E
virus (HEV), says
Brassard. “Enteric viruses are
viruses that cause
gastroenteritis and hepatitis
and can be responsible for
food poisoning. Although the
pathogen responsible for
COVID-19 is also a virus, it
mainly aects the respiratory
system. There is no indication
at this time to suggest that
the COVID-19 virus could be
transmitted through food or
farm animals in Canada.
According to CFIA, human-
to-human transmission is
behind the current spread of
COVID-19 and there is no
evidence that pets have
played a role. Although data
is limited, there are no reports
of livestock being infected or
becoming sick with COVID-
19. Scientists continue to
conduct research to nd out
if and how COVID-19 could
aect animals. But research
interest remains high in all
viruses, especially those with
a connection to livestock.
“In the course of our
research, we have been
particularly interested in HEV,
which is found in Canada and
other western countries, says
Brassard. “Unlike in Europe,
which has seen an increase in
cases of HEV infection over
the past decade, in Canada
the incidence of the disease
in the human population
remains low. This virus has
the capacity to infect several
animal species, and pigs are
considered the main animal
reservoir.
She says HEV is a zoonotic
virus, meaning it is
transmitted from animals to
humans. A large proportion
of pathogens responsible for
infectious diseases in humans
are of animal origin. HEV is
transmitted to humans when
people consume raw or
undercooked pork meat,
mainly liver. But according to
a Canadian study, only 8% of
retail pork livers contain HEV
and that no pork chops
tested positive for HEV. The
risk of coming into contact
with HEV in Canada through
the consumption of pork
meat is relatively very low,
especially if the meat is
properly cooked and people
follow basic hygiene
practices.
HEVs are known to persist
in a variety of environments.
We have carried out
various research projects over
the years on the presence of
enteric viruses in surface
water in watersheds,
assessment of their survival in
slurry, subjected to certain
treatments, the eectiveness
of food washes, etc. A better
understanding of their
presence, their resistance and
the identication of vectors
of dissemination allow us to
implement eective control
measures for zoonotic
viruses, such as HEV, and for
viruses that could threaten
the health of production
animals.
Viruses, she says, are
essentially a set of genetic
instructions designed to
enter host cells and replicate.
They probably play important
roles in the microbiological
balance and are very diverse
in terms of their structure,
genetic material, preference
for certain cell types, modes
of transmission, persistence,
and sensitivity to
disinfectants. Brassard says its
very important to study each
virus species to understand
its specic characteristics and
how it infects, replicates,
spreads and persists.
The novel coronavirus has
a protective fatty envelope
that is broken down by soap
and water which is why
handwashing for 20 seconds
kills the virus. An alcohol-
based hand sanitizer will also
destroy it.
She says many factors
contribute to the emergence
of new viruses, including
changing demographics,
human behaviour, the
movement of people and
goods across borders, and
natural disasters. COVID-19
has proven to be extremely
contagious and may peak a
number of times before its
curve attens permanently.
“New virus strains may
emerge as a result of the
evolutionary mechanisms by
which viruses transform and
progress to infect new hosts
and alter their ability to make
a host sick, says Brassard.
“Sometimes, new strains
appear because of errors that
occur during replication of
viral genetic material. Viruses
also evolve by acquiring new
genes. If two dierent virus
strains co-infect the same cell,
an exchange of genetic
material can occur when
areas along each of the RNA
strands are similar in nature
and can exchange places.
She says the dynamic
nature of how this genetic
material can be modied can
bring about a change of host,
which can signicantly alter
the harmfulness of the virus.
In some cases, when the virus
is present in one host it may
not present a big threat,
while in another host it may
have high virulence which
makes the host sick. Each
virus, whether an enteric virus
like HEV or the coronavirus
that causes COVID-19, has a
dierent strategy.
“Further research is needed
to better understand them,
says Brassard.
Margaret Evans is a
freelance writer based in
Chilliwack specializing in
agricultural science.
Research is helping scientists
understand disease-causing viruses
Research
by MARGARET EVANS
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Chatting about moisture sensors was a highlight of the cranberry congress for Ocean Spray agricultural scientist
Miranda Elsby, right, and a local grower. PHOTO / RONDA PAYNE
COUNTRY LIFE IN BC MAY 2020 | 41
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RICHMOND – Better
cranberry yields may be the
result of better moisture
sensors for BC cranberry
growers.
Hortau sensors have long
been the standard for
moisture monitoring but
Miranda Elsby, agricultural
scientist with Ocean Spray, is
exploring whether there are
other options that provide
the same (or better) benets
with reduced costs to
growers.
“I’m looking at what I think
will work best for BC
cranberry growers, she says. “I
think that part of the reason
that some of the elds were
so damaged last year was the
rooting capacity, and I think
that rooting capacity has a
correlation to moisture.
Elsby notes that plenty of
other factors cause issues for
cranberry growers but noted
that elds that are chronically
wet “just don’t have a chance.
There’s not a lot of
opportunity to recover from a
stress event, she says of
consistently wet bogs. There
is minimal rooting.
Jack DeWit, board member
with the BC Cranberry
Marketing Commission,
agrees.
While cranberry roots like
to be moist, they don’t want
to be in standing water, he
says.
A lot of times we equate
cranberries to being wet all
the time, he says. We tend to
over-irrigate in the summer.
But it depends on your
canopy, too. Knowing what
the moisture is in the ground
and what the plant requires is
important.
Elsby explains that while
BC cranberries don’t have the
root depth of those grown in
Quebec and Massachusetts,
there should be a least a
couple of inches of rooted
matter. This impacts
placement of a moisture
monitor in that there isn’t a
point in placing it six inches
deep (as often
recommended) as those
depths won’t return benecial
data to BC growers.
“You really don’t want
[sensors] any lower down
than three, four inches, she
says. “Here we just struggle to
get roots any lower.
Knowing how to place a
sensor is part of the analysis
of which sensor to use. Elsby
nds Hortau sensors to be
quite eective, but notes
their cost makes them
somewhat prohibitive. They
are provided on a lease basis
and Hortau completes setup
as well as responds if there
are issues.
“I consider the Hortau
sensor to be kind of the
standard in cranberries, she
says.
She came up with nine
other sensors to test during
the project and looked at
ease of use as well as the
quality of the data collected.
Part of the issue in testing
moisture sensors comes from
BC’s peat-based soils.
“[Volumetric content type
sensors] tend to be more
nicky in the peaty soils, she
says. They did show some
promise so I’ll test them
again. Anything that does
work in peat will work in
sand.
Last years testing left Elsby
able to condently
recommend just two of the
nine sensors tested (not
including the Hortau): one
from Meter, which was easy
to use, and the Spectrum
Fieldscout.
“It compares quite well to
the Hortau and is quite
friendly on the wallet, she
says.
Two others, the Spectrum
SM 100 and Acclima 310H, are
volumetric content sensors
that she’ll continue testing to
see if they have value.
The rest, I feel, are
garbage, she says. “Don’t
waste your money.
Soil moisture as a whole
needs to become part of the
conversation around
cranberry health, she says.
“Shes been doing some
experimenting and it takes
some time to see if theres an
Moisture sensors
are not created
equal
Cranberry growers get tips on
choosing the right one
impact on yields and if there
is an impact on the plant,
says DeWit.
DeWit is encouraged by
Elsbys research but notes
that weather and other
factors are signicant
inuences on each years
crop.
We have to plant the new
varieties. We need to
understand the plant – what
it needs to get the optimum
production out of it, he says.
We can control fertilizer and
we can do bug control and
frost control. … Theres a lot
of things we can do to impact
the yield. But some things we
can’t always control either.
42 | MAY 2020 COUNTRY LIFE IN BC
Kenneth gives new meaning to social isolation
When we left o last time,
Harriet from the newspaper
had unwittingly defused a
confrontation between
Junkyard Frank and Newt
Pullman about the aections
of Susan Henderson with her
ideas for a 4-H fundraiser.
Meanwhile, back in the
Bahamas, Deborah, Birdie and
Bernie had had enough of
Kenneths snarkiness and
strode out of the restaurant,
leaving him to dine alone.
Rural Redemption, part 121,
continues ...
Birdie caught up to
Deborah on the walkway in
front of the restaurant.
What am I going to do,
Birdie?”
Birdie slid her arm around
Deborahs waist.
“Right now, you’re going to
come with me and were
going to dry those tears up.
That man of yours doesn’t
deserve to have you crying
over him.
“I don’t know how much
more of this I can take.
Nothing I do seems right.
“Right for who? You’re not
doing anything wrong,
Honey. That man of yours is
just plain mean-hearted, and
theres no pleasing a mean-
hearted man. Or any good
reason to try to.
They walked along the
beach to Birdies suite. Bernie
arrived ve minutes later.
Ah, good. You’re both
here. I ordered some dinners
from room service; it should
be along in 20 minutes. Are
you okay, Deborah?”
“Of course she’s not okay,
said Birdie. “Did you bring
him back with you?”
“I did not. I told him I didn’t
care to golf or eat with a man
who talked to his wife like
that.
“Good, said Birdie.
“Deborah and I were just in
the middle of some girl talk.
“Do you mind if
I leave you to it
then? Itd give me
a chance to check
the TV and see
what’s going on
back home. Give
me a shout when
dinner gets here.
Birdie called for Bernie
when the dinner arrived.
“Deborah is going to
spend the night here with us
in the other bedroom.
Bernie nodded. There was
a worried look on his face.
“Is that alright with you?”
asked Deborah.
“Oh, sure, thats ne. You’re
more than welcome. I was
just watching the news and it
looks like that virus thing
from China might be getting
a little out of hand. There’s a
bunch of folks caught it on a
cruise ship, and they’re stuck
there. I’m a little worried
about it.
“Did they say if anyone at
home had it?” asked Birdie.
“No, the government says
not to worry and everything’s
going to be ne.
They said not to worry?”
And that is exactly why I
am worried, Birdie. My dad
used to say if the government
tells you not to worry, you
need to start looking over
your shoulder.
Bernie was on the internet
at rst light the next morning.
Just before seven, Birdie
came out of the bedroom
with her hand over a yawn.
“I thought you were going
to skip golf for a day and
sleep in?”
They gure it came from
bats, said Bernie.
What bats?”
The virus bats. They gure
people caught the virus from
bats at the farmers’ market in
China. Now theres another
cruise ship with it and they
think maybe somebody in
Seattles got it, too. We need
to be going home.
We aren’t booked to go
home until the end of the
week.
“Better safe than sorry,
Birdie. I went online and got
us tickets for this afternoon.
I’m afraid this holiday is over.
When Deborah got up,
Birdie broke the news to her.
“I’m afraid theres been a
change in our plans. Bernie
says that virus in China is
spreading and if you catch it,
you might not be able to go
home. We’re leaving this
afternoon. This place is paid
for almost another week;
you’re welcome to use it if
you like.
“I didn’t realize that virus
was spreading. I’ve been
avoiding the news since we
got here.