Minister of Agriculture for British Columbia Lana Popham says that despite the absolute devastation of the last three weeks, dairy production for the province is back to 100 per cent. Poultry production is running about about 90 per cent capacity, and the egg industry is status quo as it was less impacted by the mid-November flooding, she says.
“To say that the last three weeks have been devastating is an understatement,” Minister Popham says in the interview below. “It’s been just an awful and sad situation that we’re dealing with here. I was able to get out to the flooding in the Fraser Valley after the first week. And at that point, I think it’s safe to say that people were still very much in shock, and dealing with the emergencies at hand; one of the largest emergencies was trying to move livestock and deal with livestock that was deceased.”
As of this week, about 450 farms are left in the evacuation zone, down from over 1000 at one point.
“You know, it’s quite amazing. It speaks to the resilience of farmers…but the long lingering effects of what’s happened because of the flood, it’s going to be there for a while,” Popham says. In the immediacy, there’s a need for winter feed for dairy cattle and other livestock, as all of it either floated down the river or became soaked with water.
Popham notes that most of the damage and flooding occurred in the Fraser Valley, but other areas, such as Merrit, were hard hit as well. The Canadian agriculture industry and Canadians overall have been supportive of the clean up and recovery effort.
“Right from the get-go, the generosity of Canadians, and people outside of Canada, just wanting to contribute and send what they have to help out has been incredible. In fact, you know, at one point, we were struggling with an area to receive donations,” she says.
Much of the focus at the outset of the flooding was on humans and livestock, of course, but there has been incredible damage to soil and to vegetable and horticulture crops. The extent of that damage is not likely to be fully realized until the spring, at the earliest.
Farmers have shown incredible resilience in the face of disaster, Popham says, adding that most farmers, and their kids, say they plan to rebuild; they want to stay in the Fraser Valley. Just this week, a farmer was placing new chicks in a barn that had been flooded. It was cleaned out, sanitized, and ready, in just a few weeks.
“They’re proud of that community. That’s their home. And so there may be a need for them to rebuild back in a different way. But I think they’re open to that,” she says.
One of the most pressing issues right now is to get an AgriRecovery package sorted out and Popham says a package is set to be sent to the federal government next week.
Going forward, Popham says, all decisions on rebuilding will to be made through a climate change lens.
“We need to look at the technologies that are available now to help producers with extreme heat. Even something as simple as having heat pumps in chicken barns, that sort of thing, is going to help us be more resilient,” she says. A regional approach to food systems is also on the docket, as this flooding event has shown that if one area goes offline, other areas can pick up the supply.
“The weather is changing, there’s no doubt about it. And agriculture is usually hit first with those changes. And so it’s not lost on farmers that we have to do things differently, ” says Popham.