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Ask an Expert: BC Plant Health Laboratory

in Ask an Expert/Crop Production/Current Issue/Fall 2018/Grow Organic/Pest Management

Plant Health Diagnostic Support for BC Producers

Emma Holmes, P.Ag

While we always hope that every farmer has a successful season and bountiful harvests, the reality is that there are endless factors to potentially derail those harvests. For me, the hardest part of farming was finding my crops decimated by pests or struggling to survive after getting hit with a disease. My heart sank when I found my previously healthy cucurbits drooping and turning brown in the greenhouse one morning and I felt panic when the arugula I was counting on for my CSA box was eaten by pests before I managed to snag it for my customers.When problems appear, an accurate and timely diagnosis is crucial. The BC Plant Health Laboratory, along with myself and colleagues at the BC Ministry of Agriculture (AGRI), are here to provide you with plant disease and insect identification support and management advice.The Plant Health Laboratory is located in the Abbotsford Agriculture Centre and has been operating year-round since 1967. The lab is fully equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic technology and knowledgeable staff to diagnose plant health problems affecting crops and plants grown in BC, including:

  • Plant diseases
  • Non-pathogenic disorders
  • Insect Pests

How to Take Advantage of AGRI’s Diagnostic Services

  1. Send me your field snaps

If you come across an unfamiliar insect or plant health issue, please send me a picture with a description of the problem to my email, Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca. I will share internally to see if identification of the issue is possible with a photo alone or if we need a plant sample for further analysis.

  1. Submit a sample to the lab
  • Collect a sample that shows the problem. A whole plant with roots and soil is best. If the plants are small, send several. If insect damage is suspected, collect the insects. Refer to “How to Submit Plant Samples for Diagnosis” for detailed information on collecting and packaging a sample.
  • Submit several plants or plant parts showing the various symptoms. It is better to submit too much of a specimen than too little (sending a whole plant, roots and all, doesn’t hurt).

Instructions on how to package and send a sample to the lab are available on the Plant Health Lab Submission Form available through the following link: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/animal-and-crops/plant-health/plant_health_laboratory_sample_submission_form_apr_2018.pdf

Fill out the lab diagnostic submission form as thoroughly as possible to assist us in getting a better picture of what is happening in the field. Send (drop in, mail, or courier) packaged samples along with a completed submission form and appropriate payment to the address on the front page.

What information should you provide?

  • Personal contact information (address, phone, fax, or email)
  • Details on symptoms
  • When problem was first noticed
  • Indicate if the problem is spreading
  • Number of plants or percentage of field affected
  • Type of plant, age, condition of surrounding plants
  • Site description (drainage, exposure, weather, irrigation etc.)
  • Pesticide and fertilizer use (type, rate and date)
  • Past and future crops grown on site

Shipping samples

There are multiple options for getting your samples to the Plant Health Laboratory. All samples should be delivered to the laboratory as early in the day as possible, and as early in the week. Samples should be adequately packaged to ensure that they are well-preserved and in a suitable condition for analysis when they arrive at the lab.

Please contact the laboratory with any questions.

Who may submit samples?

If you are a producer, home gardener, consultant, or industry group you can send samples to the lab.

Who receives the diagnostic report?

Results are sent to the submitter unless otherwise requested. Information on individual submissions is kept confidential.

What services are not available through the BC Plant Health Lab?

Analysis for soil, tissue, nutrient, or chemical residue is NOT available.

What services are available through AGRI staff?

If and operator reaches out to AGRI then we are able to provide some extension in the way of information resources, management advice, and a farm visit if feasible. This can really vary depending on the location, whether the problem is ongoing, the type of operation and, of course, what the issue is.

Sometimes the issue at hand is something that is abiotic (i.e. not caused by a pathogen or insect pest). In those cases, what the lab can do is rule out a pest issue as best as possible. It is then up to the operator and AGRI staff to do some brainstorming (and this is often based on crop history, past management, and also information resources that AGRI staff are able to provide) about what the issue could be and ways to make some changes in management and come up with some management options.

The BC Plant Health Lab is a useful resource for producers across B.C. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with me if you have questions about the lab, or are interested in using it to get to the bottom of a plant health issue.

Example from the Field

Chris Bodnar of Close to Home Organics had noticed his cucumbers had scorched stems. He guessed it had to do with sun scorching the stems after transplanting, and decided to bring a sample to the lab for diagnosis.

He followed the sampling steps detailed earlier in this article, and the lab was able to determine the cause of the scorched stems was actually Gummy Stem Blight, a cucurbit rot disease caused by the fungal plant pathogen Didymella bryoniae. Gummy stem blight can be seed borne, and can be introduced to fields with infected seeds, seedlings, or transplants.

On learning the root cause, Chris connected the issues with his cucumber crop to a previous incident. “I remembered that the problem started one season when I bought cucumber plants from another farmer. The plants had stem issues and I’ve had this problem ever since.” Didymella bryoniaesurvives season to season if host plants are present, and can survive at least two years in the absence of host plants. It also survives on infected crop debris and weeds. It may also be spread around during picking and other field activities.

Susan Smith, AGRI Field Vegetable Specialist, advised picking from the rest of the field before picking from the infected plants. She also recommended using dedicated picking equipment (knives) for that section and sterilizing thoroughly before and after using them. Soil sterilization (ex. Solarisation), sanitation (for seeds greenhouse starts), and crop rotation are the best methods of preventing infection. Overhead irrigation should be avoided. Fall disking of crop debris (as deep as possible) and extended rotations can significantly reduce the amount of inoculum in infested fields.

“I’m glad to have a better idea of how to manage this issue moving forward,” explained Chris. “By knowing the cause of these problems, we can better develop a management plan on the farm to reduce the likelihood of gummy stem blight in the future.”

Emma Holmes has a BSc in Sustainable Agriculture and an MSc in Soil Science, both from UBC. She farmed on Orcas Island and Salt Spring Island and is how the Organics In- dustry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

All photos provided by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture.

BC Ministry of Agriculture Welcomes New Organics Specialist

in 2018/Ask an Expert/Organic Community/Organic Standards/Winter 2018
Emma Holmes with her farm mentor, John Wilcox, at UBC Farm Sept 2008

Susan Smith, P.Ag.

Please take a moment to welcome Emma Holmes, our new Industry Specialist for Organics! She is based at the Agriculture Centre in beautiful Abbotsford, and while serving a temporary assignment for the Ministry of Agriculture as the New Entrant Agrologist, Emma successfully competed for the Organics Specialist position.

Emma is an alumni of UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems, with an MSc in Soil Science and a BSc in Global Resource Systems. At UBC, her focus was sustainable agriculture and she was privileged to visit a wide variety of organic farms in the province and learn directly from growers as part of her class work. Emma also took part in two programs that provided her with on-farm skills: the UBC Organic Agricultural Internship and Canadian Farm Business Step-Up. She went on to complete an 8-month intensive permaculture program at the Bullock Brother’s Homestead, and spent a season managing a small-scale diversified organic farm on Salt Spring Island. Emma has been teaching about sustainable soil management and agriculture since 2011 at UBC Farm and garden clubs around the Lower Mainland; and is the Soil Science instructor for KPU’s Tsawwassen Farm School.

Emma Holmes

Before joining the Ministry of Agriculture, Emma coordinated an on-farm extension program for small-scale organic growers in Metro Vancouver where she worked closely with farmers, researchers, universities, and agrologists on the complex issues pertaining to climate change. She was also the operations manager of Skipper Otto’s Community Supported Fishery; programs manager of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society; and is a qualified Environmental Farm Planner.

As the outgoing Industry Specialist for Organics, I will be playing a role over the next four to six months (through April) in assisting Emma’s transition to the Organics file. As Emma steps away from her new entrant role and into organics, I see an opportunity for her work to be informed with new entrant opportunities and ideas for development of improved extension for the BC organic sector. Her work will include collaboration with the organic sector and other agencies to support the growth of organics in British Columbia. Continued support and stewardship of the transition to mandatory organic certification in BC will also be key. I look forward to Emma’s collaborative style and her organized approach to engagement.

Please take some time over the next little while to welcome Emma.

[A quick note from the editor and COABC: While we’re excited to have Emma on board, we are so very grateful to Susan Smith for all she’s done in her role as Industry Specialist for Field Vegetables and Organics. A big thank you to Susan from the organic sector—don’t be a stranger!]

Susan Smith is an Industry Specialist for Field Vegetables and Organics at the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

Stewarding the Land with the Environmental Farm Plan

in Fall 2017/Land Stewardship

Emma Holmes

The Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a no-charge, voluntary, and confidential program in which producers receive one-on-one support from a qualified Planning Advisor to highlight their farm’s environmental strengths, identify potential risks, and set realistic action plans to improve environmental stewardship. It also supports farmers in taking advantage of tools, techniques, and funding to manage those risks.

The program applies to all types and sizes of farm operations in the province. Developing an Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) is a strong tool towards ensuring the sustainability and resiliency of your farm operation.

The first stage of the program involves conducting a farm evaluation with a Planning Advisor. The evaluation includes a farm walk about and completion of the EFP workbook, which consists of two parts – Farm Review and Action Plan.

The Farm Review Worksheets will provide you with:

  • an understanding of current government regulations relevant to your farming operation
  • tools to help you assess the impact of your farming practices on the environment
  • risk assessment questions that help you pinpoint any areas of concern or opportunities for improvement

Based on the results of your Farm Review Worksheets, your Planning Advisor will work with you to develop an Action Plan that will:

  • help you set realistic goals to protect and enhance the environment
  • improve your response to environmental incidents through contingency planning
  • prioritize goals and set realistic timelines to achieve them

Once you’ve completed the Farm Review Worksheets, developed the Action Plan, and you and your Planning Advisor have both signed the Statement of Completion, you will have completed the EFP.

In recognition of their efforts to manage land in an environmentally sustainable manner, producers who complete the EFP Program may be eligible to apply for cost-shared incentives through the Beneficial Management Practices (BMP) Program to implement actions identified in their on-farm environmental action plan.

The EFP designation is trusted by the public, who are increasingly supporting farms that are environmentally responsible, and thus a completed EFP provides enhanced marketing opportunities.

The EFP process is completely voluntary and you may proceed as far as you wish. All of the priorities developed by you and your Planning Advisor will belong solely to you. It is your choice to implement all, some, or none of the priority actions.

Confidentiality is a fundamental component of the program. The EFP process provides producers with information and support in meeting environmental regulations. It is not an enforcement program. The Farm Review and the Action Plan will belong only to you; your Planning Advisor will not share any details of your farm plan with anyone else, including government organizations or other farmers.

Thousands of farmers in BC have participated in the program and have found it valuable. They have utilized the support offered through the program to make important improvements to their operations that minimize environmental risks. Many producers have also appreciated the enhanced public trust and marketing opportunities associated with the program

For more information and to work with an EFP planner, please reach out to www.bcefp.ca, 604-854-4483, 1-866-552-3447, or efpinfo@ardcorp.ca. A Planning Advisor will be assigned based on your region or commodity.

The EFP Program is run by BC ARDCorp on behalf of the BC Ministry of Agriculture and is funded by the governments of British Columbia and Canada through Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

Emma Holmes has a B.SC in Sustainable Agriculture and M.Sc in Soil Science, both from UBC. She farmed on Orcas Island and Salt Spring Island and is now the New Entrant Agrologist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

Ask an Expert: Farmland Advantage

in Ask an Expert/Fall 2017/Land Stewardship

Making Positive Change to Farmland Biodiversity in BC

Susan Smith, Alsion Speirs, and Dave Zehnder

Farmland Advantage is a research and development project that works with farmers to conserve and enhance critical natural values in British Columbia. These natural values are often referred to as ecosystem services, which are services of a natural environment that benefit society as a whole. Examples are wetlands that filter and purify water and forests that clean the air and provide habitat for wildlife. The Farmland Advantage model works with the BC Environmental Farm Plan Program to help farmers identify the natural values on the farm that can be protected and enhanced. It then helps farmers implement best management practices (BMPs) and contracts the farmer to preserve them. These practices can include actions such as water or stream setbacks, strategic fencing, reforestation, or rangeland enhancement. In this model, funding is provided to the farmer to help put BMPs in place and to maintain them over the long term.

A global example of the economic benefits of this approach can be seen by looking to New York City. In 1997, this type of program saved the city 7 billion dollars. Instead of installing a costly water filtration plant, area farmers were contracted to amend management practices such as fertilizer regimes and livestock grazing to protect streams. Field management practices to reduce soil erosion were also implemented. Another example is in Costa Rica where, in the 1950’s, 80% of the forest cover was intact. By 1985, with the forest cover down to 20%, the trend was reversed by providing incentives for Costa Ricans to plant and maintain trees. As a result, forest cover in Costa Rica has rebounded to about 60%.

The Farmland Advantage team includes coordinator Dave Zehnder, who has the background in ecology and agriculture to develop these farmland projects. Other team members include an accountant to keep everyone whipped into shape, and rangeland manager, Don Gayton, who is one of the first scientists to get involved in the project. Michelle Molnar, lead economist with the David Suzuki Foundation, is also part of this diverse team of individuals tasked with developing and delivering the Farmland Advantage Project. Key partners include the BC Environmental Farm Plan Program (EFP) and associated EFP Advisors.

The Farmland Advantage Project and the EFP Program work synergistically in that EFP Advisors assist producers to develop an EFP and provide a range of planning services that can then allow access to incentives that enable producers to implement BMPs. After implementation, Farmland Advantage develops necessary contractual arrangements to assist with the cost of maintaining the projects and their ongoing assessments. Being able to access both programs through the EFP Advisor that visits the farm and helps them through the process makes it easy for the farmer to get it all set up.

Currently, Farmland Advantage is a five year research and development project that is working towards a long-term program. It involves partners and agencies working together to develop a solid, replicable program model capable of being administered independently and sustainably, and able to show tangible successes. Working groups made up of farmers, technical experts, and funders act in an advisory capacity to develop the project at the regional scale.

The Rock-A-Boo Ranch is one of the first Farmland Advantage projects in the Kootenay region of British Columbia. Rock-a-Boo Ranch is located in Brisco, half an hour north of Invermere, and has been farmed by John Palmer and his family for over 100 years.

In addition to cattle, the farm also has sheep, ducks, goats, and chickens, as well as two guard donkeys. This project was borne out of a need to protect the unique Lower Bugaboo Falls, the largest low elevation cedar grove/rainforest ecosystem in the East Kootenay, and one of only six overall. Historically, these were salmon spawning grounds and a location of meeting for Indigenous peoples. John recognized the need to protect this site from having his animals use it for grazing and watering.

In addition to this ecologically and culturally significant site, John also fenced off an area of forest, building alternate shelter so that the trees would not be destroyed from over-grazing and bark rubbing. Finally, as part of the project, he fenced his cattle from the Crown Lands of the Columbia wetlands. This saved him time in animal management, reduced mortality risk, and also aided in preservation of the sensitive wetlands. John worked with his local EFP Advisor to develop the plan and build the fence. He is now receiving an annual payment to maintain the area.

The Farmland Advantage Project has been rolled out in phases. Phase 1 included a literature review and small scale trial of the concept to create an initial model. Phase 2 developed the model further by establishing sites across the province. Working with economists and agriculture and wildlife experts along the way, the goal was to look at different types of agriculture in different regions to see if there are differences in results. This research and development phase of the project is being carried out using a continuous improvement approach as they learn new and better ways of delivering the program and working with different partners.

Phase 3 is about developing the project into a long-term program. This phase involves the establishment of demonstration and test sites in three regions of the province: Kootenays, Okanagan, and Lower Mainland. In year one of this five year project, Farmland Advantage was able to sign on 60 farmers and establish 60 demonstration sites. In that time, over 740 acres of prime riparian habitat, including over 30 km of shoreline, was conserved and enhanced. The project is now working to establish funders that will grow and sustain the program over the long term.

A key aspect of the Farmland Advantage Project is ongoing monitoring to measure the benefits. The Alberta Biodiversity Monitoring Institute (ABMI) provided the monitoring method that tries to answer the basic question, “What positive changes can be measured when BMPs are implemented and maintained?” According to the ABMI, the science is sound on the benefits of BMPs that protect riparian zones, allowing development of a “rapid” assessment for measuring the results. This method, known as a riparian health assessment, is being used by Farmland Advantage to measure indicators of riparian health and the results of the projects.

For example, invasive (noxious) weeds can to be a problem in riparian areas. This tool scores the area in terms of presence of weeds. Over time, it is possible to use this established weed score to measure the change or improvement of a riparian area once BMPs have been implemented.

Among the many examples of the local benefits to biodiversity, an important one is bird populations that rely on protection of riparian zones. Riparian zones are extremely valuable for providing food, nesting sites, and refuge for an abundance of wild birds in British Columbia. An example is the Lewis’s Woodpecker, listed as a Species At Risk, and observed visiting one of the project sites located in the Kootenays. Bird Studies Canada is one of the partners helping Farmland Advantage to develop monitoring methodology specifically for birds using the sites.

An important goal of the Farmland Advantage Project is to ensure the farmer is not losing money by participating in the program. Key to this is a cost-benefit analysis, currently underway, that includes the cost of creating and maintaining the BMPs. This analysis will guide payment levels and ensure the program doesn’t become another unpaid job for the farmer.
There is a long list of partners involved with Farmland Advantage including universities, BC Agriculture Council, Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC, farming and wildlife agencies, private foundations, conservation funds, local governments, Government of Canada, and the Government of BC.

For more information, visit the Farmland Advantage website  or contact Dave Zehnder by phone: 250-342-0325, or email: dave@farmlandadvantage.com

Susan Smith is an Industry Specialist for Field Vegetables and Organics, and Alison Speirs is an Environmental Agrologist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture. Dave Zehnder, based in Invermere, is the Project Lead for the Farmland Advantage Project.

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