14 Senate hearing highlights

climate change concerns Committee welcomes BC presentations on challenges

by SEAN HITREC VANCOUVER – Climate talks heated up in late March as representatives from BC’s farm organizations met in Vancouver with the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry to discuss agriculture’s progress and concerns in the face of climate change. Rising global temperatures

introduce a wealth of new obstacles for farmers who rely on the environment to make ends meet. Data collected by BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative projects show that farming conditions in BC will continue to become more unstable in the coming years, especially if action is not taken. Representatives of the BC

Agriculture Council and BC Fruit Growers’ Association presented a list of innovations, hardships and suggestions to senators. The response from the senate was “very positive,” says BCAC executive director Reg Ens. “They were engaged, they were familiar with some of the related programs and some of the work and understood some of the concerns that we raised.” During the hearing, BCFGA president Pinder Dhaliwal and

general manager Glen Lucas reported on environmental hardships the BCFGA’s 500 or so members have suffered and will face in the future. “Climate change is leading

to weather events that are a) getting more extreme and b) getting more frequent,” Dhaliwal told the committee. “Flooding, as the snowpack at the higher elevations melt, drowns our trees. Disease spreads due to high humidity from spring flooding. Frequent periods of rain, especially June and August when the cherries ripen, does lots of damage.” As average temperatures

increase, fruit also falls victim to drought, sunburn and heat stress, resulting in smaller yields.

Dhaliwal suggested

increasing the number of upstream water-storage facilities could mitigate some of the challenges growers face. “We recommend that

increased water storage be eligible for infrastructure funding on a priority basis due to the expensive upgrades for water quality,” Dhaliwal said. BCAC’s presentation on

other forms of agriculture in BC echoed the seemingly macabre future in store for

Interior orchards. While eco-friendly

greenhouse innovations are available, BCAC chair Stan Vander Waal noted there are financial barriers to implementing the efficient solutions.

LED lighting can reduce

greenhouse energy consumption by a third compared to standard HPS (high-pressure sodium) lights, Vander Waal said. However, LEDs are too expensive to be economically viable. “The cost difference

between the fixtures is, say, $300 to $900 for an LED,” Vander Waal told Country Life in BC. “So, in other words, you’ve got to go for a loan for $1 million versus $300,000. So that’s the difference. The payback is actually not there yet.”

He speculated that rising

power prices or dropping LED prices would encourage a switch. Vander Waal also said applying a carbon tax to greenhouses is a barrier to profitability in Canada. "We operate in a global

market where still, too often, it is the lowest price that drives the sale," Vander Waal said. With looser regulations in the United States, he said greenhouse production is



much more profitable south of the border. Water recirculation systems can cut greenhouse water use by as much as 50%, a measure that could help as snowpack melts and water becomes scarcer. “Instead of leaching the water into the environment, we reuse it. This reduces fertilizer consumption by 35%,” Vander Waal said. He noted that upon

recirculation, fertilizer levels are more of a “moving target” and require adjustments that sometimes take too long to analyze as detailed analysis requires off-site testing. But, crops need water on an ongoing basis. Detrimental pathogens can spread to the greenhouse when water is reused, he noted. Invasive organisms are becoming more prevalent for agriculture as the climate changes, Vander Waal added. “The changing climate conditions are bringing new threats: new pests, diseases and invasive plants to BC,” he said. “These invaders not only impact farming and ranching but in many situations, are a

threat to native populations. Preventing their introduction and spread where possible is critical.” Vander Waal said more

environment-friendly biochemicals are an effective answer to the problem. However, he said the regulatory process in Canada is slower than that in the US when it comes to allowing farmers to use biochemicals on their crops.

Since its inception in 2008, the Climate Action Initiative has undertaken many research projects to help BC farmers adapt to climate change. That work is expected to continue under the new Canadian Agricultural Partnership. Ens says he’s still waiting to hear back from the province regarding the bilateral agreement that will ensure funding for the next five years. He said the deal was to be signed in January and he was hopeful for it to be signed in April, when CAP replaces Growing Forward 2. “There are still lots of implementation projects that are on the shelf waiting to be done,” he said.

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