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ministry of agriculture

Ask an Expert: COVID-19 Supports for the Organic Sector

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Organic Community/Summer 2020/Tools & Techniques

A Network of Support for BC’s Ag Industry in COVID-19

Karina Sakalauskas

I know the past two months have been a challenge to all. I hope your families and workers are staying healthy and safe at your farms.

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak and to respect physical distancing measures, Ministry staff are working remotely but are still available to assist you. We continue to support the sector’s needs by providing services via email, phone, and through virtual meetings whenever possible. As we move on to the next stage of BC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are attempting to regain a sense of normalcy.

During these last two months, the Sector Development Branch at the Ministry, to which regional agrologists and industry specialists such as myself belong, has been reaching out to industry stakeholders and reporting to executives on the impacts experienced by the agriculture sector with regards to COVID-19 containment efforts.

I am in constant contact with COABC and representatives specific to their commodity portfolio such as organic farmers from different areas and from different food and beverage categories (poultry, livestock, dairy, veggies, fruit), organic processors and distributors, the accreditation board of COABC, certification bodies, and inspectors among others.

Some of the current impacts on the organic sector, identified through outreach efforts, are as follows:

  • Revenue losses from closed farmers’ markets, restaurants, and other sales outlets and difficulties in finding new supply routes.
  • Lack of support for small-scale diversified farmers (lack of qualification for support and insurance programs).
  • Lack of capacity for non-profit industry associations to address issues without stable revenues.
  • Delays in audits and inspections, including for organic certification. New growers or those in transition to be certified organic will be most impacted by cancellations or delays.
  • Information technology challenges in conducting remote inspections as well as in the transition to e-commerce by farmers.
  • Labour concerns and difficulty in productivity due to physical distancing measures.
  • Loss of WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) impacts organic farmers, farmers’ markets, and small-scale diversified producers.
  • Shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other supplies.

Throughout the last week of April and first week of May, the Ministry of Agriculture planned a series of meetings for Minister Lana Popham to engage directly with industries of varying commodities and food system groups over a phone call (Phase 1). COABC’s executive director, Eva-Lena Lang, members of the COABC board, and organic farmers were invited to participate in a roundtable on April 30th, 2020.

Some highlights of the topics discussed include: support for certification bodies and COABC, support for small farms and market gardeners, collaboration between the organic sector and the Ministry, access to slaughter and processing capacity, alternative food supply chains, seed production shortages, and infrastructure and postharvest storage facilities for the organic sector. I have followed up with COABC, providing resources and initiatives related to the topics discussed. The Minister of Agriculture, Lana Popham is planning to engage with the industry again around June (Phase 2).

During this time of uncertainty, there is an overwhelming amount of information to digest. Here is a summary of the latest activities that the Ministry is conducting in response to COVID-19:

Funding Opportunities

BC Agri-Business Planning Program

The BC Agri-Business Planning Program is now open to support producers and food processors through two streams:

  • COVID-19 Business Recovery Planning to help BC producers and processors develop and implement an immediate and long-term recovery plan.
  • Specialized Business Planning to enable BC producers and processors to make more informed decisions and strengthen their business.

BC Food and Beverage (BCFB) Protecting our People: PPE Access Program

BCFB announced a program to procure and offer PPE for the exclusive benefit of the food production, seafood, and agriculture sectors in BC. Companies needing PPE can purchase through this initiative. BCFB’s goal is to order in large enough quantities to make them more affordable for industry to purchase them.

On-Farm and Post-Farm Food Safety Program (OFFS): COVID-19 funding now available

OFFS is offering funding for protective and safety equipment for the April 2020 to March 2021 fiscal year. Eligible companies can seek funding to acquire PPE and other approved safety supplies for use at their facilities in order to maintain a safe workplace and mitigate the risk of COVID-19. With applications for personal protective equipment funding only, the usually mandatory Good Agricultural Practices assessment requirement is waived.

Funding Updates

Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA)

CEBA has decreased the requirements for a payroll of $20k to make the funds more eligible for sole proprietors (i.e. owner/operators of small farms).

Resources and More

Recommendations for U-Pick, Farm Stands and Agri-tourism

These new documents outline information for U-pick, farm stands, and agri-tourism operators to meet Provincial Health Officer (PHO) orders, notices, and guidance. The information in these documents is meant to complement PHO recommendations.

BC Food Product Notification and Tracking Tool

The Ministry Food Service and Distribution working group has developed a tool to track existing overages and shortages of BC products due to COVID-19, sharing this information with potential markets. If you are experiencing difficulty in finding sales channels for your products or are lacking in inventory, please email me at karina.sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca

BC’s Restart Plan and the Agriculture and Seafood Sector – Important Information

Many sectors, including Agriculture, are encouraged to make plans and establish protocols on how they can operate safely in line with Public Health and Safety Guidelines. WorkSafeBC and the Ministry of Agriculture will work with industry associations to ensure the direction and guidance they provide to their members meets the requirements set out by the Provincial Health Officer. Individual businesses will need to ensure their own plans align with these sectoral plans.

Receiving Temporary Foreign Workers – Provincial Inspections for COVID-19

All temporary foreign workers arriving in BC for seasonal farm work are required to self-isolate in government-managed accommodations for 14 days before being transported to their farm. Host farm operators must ensure a safe workplace and demonstrate proof of an inspection control plan with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Guidelines for Protecting BC Farmers and Farm Workers during the COVID-19 Pandemic

On-Farm Food Safety and Good Agriculture Practices: COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions

Small Lot Pork Producer Management & Production

BC AGRI, in collaboration with BC Pork, have released a new resource manual titled Small Lot Pork Producer Management & Production. While not related to COVID specifically, it is of special interest as many people are starting to raise their own animals and would like to learn more about best management and recommended animal husbandry practices.

To keep up-to-date on how we are supporting you, I would recommend signing up for our AgriService BC bulletin. Sign up here.

The Ministry of Agriculture maintains a list of resources for businesses, including support for businesses on our website.

As we continue to adjust to the ever-changing social landscape in the face of COVID-19, I would like to say thank you to everyone continuing to work on your farms to support the local organic food sector.

Please feel free to send me your comments, ideas, and questions at karina.sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca

Karina is the Organic Specialist with the BC Ministry of Agriculture.

Feature image credit: Gabriel Jimenez

Protecting Organic Integrity

in 2020/Ask an Expert/Marketing/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Winter 2020

Karina Sakalauskas

We, as organic producers, retailers, stakeholders, academia, and government bodies, among others, will shape the future of the organic sector. We must be informed, connected, and vocal about our concerns and suggestions to maintain the integrity of the industry.

How are we working towards an improved future?

We might begin with a discussion of the new Organic Certification Regulation that came into effect in British Columbia on September 1, 2018. This regulation requires all producers and processors selling food and beverage products marketed in British Columbia as “organic” to be certified through an accredited federal or provincial program. The term “organic” is now a protected label within B.C. The aim of this regulation is to clarify the term “organic” for consumers, stakeholders, producers, and growers.

Previously, BC had a voluntary organic program, meaning operators could get organic certification but were not required to have it in order to make an organic claim. In 2009, the Federal Government adopted Organic Certification for any organic products crossing provincial or international borders. Other provinces, such as Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Alberta later adopted regulations that protected the use of the term organic for products produced, processed, and marketed within provincial boundaries.

The BC Ministry of Agriculture announced the Organic Certification Regulation in 2015 and provided three years of transition for the sector to come into compliance. During this time, the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture worked closely with the Certified Organic Associations of BC (COABC) on education and outreach about organics and the new regulation to support the sector.

What does this new regulation entail?

Producers and processors must have organic certification from an accredited certification body if they want to make any sort of organic claim on a product, including “grown following organic principles,” or “made with organic ingredients” Claims such as “uncertified organic” or “more than organic” are not permitted. Organic producers, processors, and others in the supply chain who use the ‘organic” protected label are expected to be able to provide proof of up-to-date certification upon request by a Ministry of Agriculture enforcement officer. Violations under the regulation will result in legal repercussions that could include tickets being issued ($350 fine) or court prosecutions against the seller.

What does this mean for the industry?

Greater clarity around what organic means is something consumers in B.C. have been requesting, and the Organic Certification Regulation is significantly contributing to promote and protect consumer confidence in B.C. organic products.

How do we contribute to the strength of the B.C. Organic sector?

One way we can protect the reputation of the BC Organic label is to ensure we follow the principles of organic integrity. Organic integrity is what separates organic food from non-organic food, referring to the adherence to organic standards at the production level, which must be maintained through handling to the point of final sale, for the final product to be labeled and/or marketed as organic.

What role does retail play?

Maintaining organic integrity through to retail sale is important. BC and Canada’s organic regulations require that the organic integrity of a product is not compromised in any stage of preparation or handling, which includes storing, grading, packing, shipping, marketing, and labelling. Retailer certification improves consumer trust and strengthens the organic label. The Ministry of Agriculture has published guidelines to provide clarity to operators, manufacturers, and retailers in BC on how to be compliant with BC’s Organic Certification Regulation.

How can we sustain this progress?

As an industry, we must continue to work together, learn from our experiences and be open to new perspectives. We must encourage communication between parties in the BC Organic Sector to ensure all groups, small or large, are well represented and have their needs addressed. This industry-wide collaboration helps to maintain organic integrity along the production chain.

You can find out more about BC’s amendments to current provincial regulation on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website.

If you have concerns of a business marketing agricultural products using the organic label, without organic certification, please contact AgriServiceBC at 1-888-221-7141 or AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca.

Karina is the Organic Specialist with the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at Karina.Sakalauskas@gov.bc.ca

All photos: Taken at a KPU event on July 5, 2019. Credit: Karina Sakalauskas.

Ask An Expert: A New Agricultural Environmental Management Regulation

in 2019/Ask an Expert/Fall 2019/Grow Organic/Land Stewardship/Organic Standards/Water Management
Agricultural Management code of practice BC ministry of Agriculture Farmer in a field

By the Province of British Columbia

In keeping with the respect BC’s agricultural operators have for the land, air, and water, new rules for agricultural environmental management are now in place. After years of science and evidence-based analysis, as well as conversations with agricultural operators throughout the province, a new regulation called the Code of Practice for Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM Code) came into effect on February 28, 2019. The goal of this Code is to provide more clarity for the agriculture sector while better protecting the environment for all British Columbians.

Organic farmers will see that some requirements are continued from the previous regulation, such as no direct discharges into watercourses, some have been revised to clarify expectations, and some are new, several of which are being phased in over the next decade.

Why a new regulation?

Through several consultations we heard that the old rules were too vague for operators and weren’t adequately protecting the environment. Working with farmers, we built a fair set of rules that ensure agricultural practices protect our drinking water, watercourses, and air.

The new AEM Code takes a different approach to the previous regulation. Requirements are more clearly outlined, and they’re both risk-based and science-based. For example, more protective measures now need to be taken in high-risk areas and during high-risk conditions. Also, soil samples are required to be taken to help determine what measures are necessary on specific farms.

Who does this regulation apply to?

It applies to all agricultural operations in BC, from small hobby farms to large commercial operations, including organic farms. That said, the regulation has been built with the understanding that not all agricultural operations are the same and that there are differences from one region of this province to another. Various requirements are contingent on an operation’s location, size, and type of activity. Many farms won’t need to make big changes to adjust to the new regulation.

What does this regulation include?

The new regulation includes provisions that aim to: ensure watercourses and groundwater are protected through proper storage and use of manure, other nutrient sources, and other materials, such as wood residue; prevent water quality impacts from contaminated run-off; prohibit direct discharges into watercourses; require nutrient management planning; allow for increased monitoring in high-risk areas; provide clear compliance expectations for agricultural operators for setbacks, storage, and nutrient applications; and, require record-keeping.

When is this happening?

The new rules came into effect on February 28, 2019, but some of the requirements, such as nutrient management plans, will be phased-in over the next decade. This approach will give agricultural operators time to plan for and adjust to the new rules, and for government to work collaboratively with industry to develop the necessary tools to support implementation.

What does this mean for me?

Organic farmers will need to demonstrate a basic level of environmental protection, but many are already doing what the regulation requires. This includes:

  • ensuring minimum setbacks for various activities and proper storage requirements are followed;
  • preventing contaminated runoff, leachate, solids, and air contaminants from entering watercourses, crossing property boundaries, or going below the seasonal high water table;
  • registration for boilers and heaters with greater than 0.15 MW capacity, and meeting emissions limits for opacity and particulate matter;
  • nitrogen application rates that meet the crop’s needs and not more, for applications to land and other than to land (e.g., grown in containers);
  • collecting and containing wastewater, contaminated runoff, or leachate;
  • wastewater needs to be treated prior to discharge into the environment; and
  • record-keeping to demonstrate compliance.

Requirements will affect farms differently depending on whether they are in a high-risk area, what their current practices are, and the nature and size of the farm. In addition to the basic level of protection above, these include increased monitoring and protective measures in high-risk areas and during high-risk conditions, such as:

  • protective bases for greenhouses and storage structures in vulnerable aquifer recharge areas to ensure no leaching down into the aquifer;
  • covering temporary field-stored piles, including agricultural by-products or wood residue, and outdoor agricultural composting piles, in high precipitation areas from October 1 to April 1.

How will the regulation be enforced?

As we roll out the new regulation, we will be working with you on how to best help you comply with the new rules. Our goal is to support agricultural operators so that, working together, we can better protect the environment.

There are dedicated staff within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy who will work with you to understand your obligations under the Environmental Management Act, which this regulation falls under. The team uses a consistent and risk-based approach for establishing compliance and enforcement priorities.

Learn more: to find out if you are in a high-risk area, or need more information on what records you need to keep, or what minimum setbacks you need to follow, please visit the following website at: gov.bc.ca/Agricultural-Environmental-Management.

Questions? Contact: AEMCoPenquiries@gov.bc.ca 

All photos: Province of British Columbia

Ask An Expert: Organic Certification Regulation

in Ask an Expert/Marketing/Organic Standards/Standards Updates/Summer 2019

Emma Holmes

As many of you are aware, new Organic Certification Regulation came into effect in BC on September 1, 2018. The term “organic” is now a protected label within BC for agricultural products that have been produced or processed in BC and that can be assessed using the Canadian Organic Standard CAN/CGSB 32.310, 32.311 or 32.312.

Organic Certification Regulation is something the organic sector has been working towards for some time, and will significantly contribute to promoting and protecting consumer confidence in BC organic products.

What are the details?

The new regulation means that organic producers, processors, distributors, and others in the supply chain who use the ‘organic” protected label are expected to be able to provide proof of up-to-date certification upon request by a Ministry of Agriculture enforcement officer. Violations under the regulation will result in legal repercussions that could include tickets being issued ($350 fine) or court prosecutions against the seller.

You can find more information on the new regulation on the Organic Food and Beverage Policies page of the BC Ministry of Agriculture website. This webpage includes a “Guidelines for BC’s Organic Certification Regulation” document that provides specific examples of what activities organic certification is and is not required for.

How can I contribute to the strength of the BC Organic sector?

BC’s Organic Certification Regulation is enforced on a complaint basis so if you know of a business that is marketing their agricultural products using the organic label, but does not have certification, please let AgriServiceBC know.

AgriService BC can be reached by phone (1-888-221-7141) or email (AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca).

All complaints are strictly confidential and no personal details will ever be shared with the party in question or anyone beyond the enforcement team. Contact details are requested when lodging a complaint so that the enforcement team can follow up and provide details on the outcome of the file.

COABC recently published an article on how to lodge complaint and the link can be found in their April 2019 ENews.

How is it going so far?

The number of complaints were steady over the fall and winter and have been revving up in recent weeks. The Ministry enforcement team has been following up on all complaints promptly.

What we are seeing is that businesses are voluntarily complying with the regulation by removing organic claims from their products and marketing, and several are pursuing organic certification so they will be able to resume using the protected label organic in their marketing in the future. The goal of the regulation, to remove operators who are falsely marketing their products as organic from the marketplace, is being met.

Is there organic regulation in the rest of Canada?

Yes. Since 2009, federal regulations have required organic certification for any food or beverage products that bear an organic claim and cross a provincial or international border.

In 2006, Quebec was the first province to adopt and enforce provincial organic regulation for products produced, processed, and marketed within their provincial borders. Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia followed suit in 2013, 2014, and 2015 respectively. BC’s regulation came into effect on September 1, 2018 and on April 1, 2019 Alberta became the most recent province to adopt provincial organic regulation.


Any questions or concerns about filing complaints or the Organic Certification Regulation in general can be directed to me at emma.holmes@gov.bc.ca or 250-241-2430.

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 now the Organics Industry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca 

Ask an Expert: BC Seed Security

in 2019/Ask an Expert/Crop Production/Grow Organic/Seeds/Winter 2019

Scaling Up Organic Vegetable Seed Production in BC

Emma Holmes, P.Ag

The organic seed sector will be getting a boost through a comprehensive project that includes seed production, business, and market supports.

FarmFolk CityFolk, which has been working to cultivate local, sustainable food systems since 1993, will be leading the project with funding provided from the Governments of Canada and B.C. through the Canadian Agriculture Partnership. The five year, $3 billion Canadian Agricultural Partnership launched on April 1, 2018, and includes $2 billion in cost-shared strategic initiatives delivered by the provinces and territories, plus $1 billion for federal programs and services.

FarmFolk CityFolk will specifically be working on:

  • Developing a mobile seed processing unit to help small and mid-scale seed farmers efficiently and affordably process seed
  • Expanding seed production skills training in the Lower Mainland, Okanagan, Kootenays and North through focused in-person training and webinars
  • Supporting new entrants and small seed businesses with “Seed Enterprise Budgets” to help farmers plan and prepare for expenses, revenues and inventory management
  • Supporting Seedy Saturday events around the province by developing shared event planning resources

This project builds off of FarmFolk CityFolk’s previous work with the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security, as well as Dan Jason’s Seed Resiliency report commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture this past winter. Jason’s report included an inventory of seed assets in the province as well as recommendations for increasing seed resiliency in BC.

Beet seeds. Credit: Chris Thoreau

British Columbia has the greatest diversity of crops and growing conditions of any province or territory in Canada. This provides a great opportunity to work with a wide range of ecosystems to create regionally tested and locally adapted seeds that support our local foodsheds in uncertain climates and that can also thrive in diverse climates around the world.

Seed production provides BC organic farmers with an opportunity to diversify their farm production and increase revenue. The market for certified organic seed is expected to continue to grow in the coming decades as the consumer demand for organic products increases and certifiers are adopting stricter enforcement around purchasing certified organic seed when available.

FarmFolk CityFolk will be collaborating with other organizations in BC focused on seed, such as the UBC Farm Seed Hub, KPU’s new lab for seed testing and cleaning (a major new asset for the province), and the BC Eco Seed Co-op. The strengths of these organizations, combined with the incredible passion and energy of local seed savers, farmers, and growers, will go a long way in supporting the development B.C.’s organic seed sector, the base of resilient communities and thriving food systems.


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 now the Organics Industry Specialist at the BC Ministry of Agriculture. She can be reached at: Emma.Holmes@gov.bc.ca

Feature image: Examining carrots as part of the BC Seed Trials. Credit: Chris Thoreau

Ask an Expert: BC Plant Health Laboratory

in Ask an Expert/Crop Production/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, Alison 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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