B.C. fruit and vegetable growers face uncertainty after floods

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When asked about the potential for financial aid, Public Safety Secretary Mike Farnworth said the province is working with the federal government to identify where gaps in existing insurance, disaster and agricultural aid programs need to be addressed.

Author of the article:

, Brenna Owen The Canadian press

Publication date:

11/26/2021November 26, 20214 minutes read Join the conversation Flood surrounds a farm in Abbotsford, BC on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. Flood surrounds a farm in Abbotsford, BC on Tuesday, November 23, 2021. Photo by JONATHAN HAYWARD /THE CANADIAN PRESS

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While water continues to flood their homes and fields, Curtis Sandhu says his family are planning to rebuild after a levee failure and devastating flooding struck the prime agricultural area of ​​Suma’s Prairie east of Vancouver last week.

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The flood came a little over four months after a heat wave in late June “burned down” her entire raspberry harvest and about a quarter of her entire fruit and vegetable harvest, Sandhu said in an interview.

Sandhu’s family came to Canada in the early 1960s and started farming about a decade later. Today, the 27-year-old and his parents grow various berries and vegetables on around 120 acres, while several other relatives farm near Abbotsford.

“You spend 45 years building something and then seeing how it all works in six hours or so, it’s hard to see, isn’t it?” said Sandhu. “But you know, as an immigrant family and working for everything they had, (my father) said, well, we have nowhere to go, we have nowhere to go, this is our home and we are not going to stop.”

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Sandhu and his family left their home last Tuesday following an evacuation order and were given photos the next day showing their nearly two-meter-tall berry plants underwater.

They wondered if their house, which was built on a higher level, would be okay, he said. A visit by boat last Saturday revealed more than a meter of water inside.

It was hard to see their belongings and pictures floating around as he waded in, but the visit also brought some acceptance and determination to move forward, he said.

Significant portions of many of the fruits and vegetables produced in the province are grown on the Suman prairies, Sandhu said. Farmers need help cleaning up once the water recedes and repairing their homes, infrastructure and soils so they can continue to produce crops that will feed people across the country, he added.

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Nearly 60 blueberry producers and 8.5 square kilometers of the berries have been hit by flooding, along with 33 acres of raspberries that will need to be torn out and replanted, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said at a news conference Thursday.

About 4,000 tons of stored and unharvested field vegetables are likely to be lost, mainly from the Sumas Prairie and Fort Langley areas, with significant effects on cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, carrots and leeks, Popham said.

When asked about the potential for financial aid, Public Safety Secretary Mike Farnworth said the province is working with the federal government to identify where gaps in existing insurance, disaster and agricultural aid programs need to be addressed.

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David Gill is one of the blueberry farmers whose property was flooded on the prairies of Sumas. His fields, packing line, tractors, and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high-tech equipment were submerged in more than two meters of water, he said.

“This is my life’s work,” said the 28-year-old in an interview.

Gill’s family has grown blueberries since the 1990s and expanded into the packaging and marketing business to represent approximately 30 growers in the area.

Since the flood, these growers have been concerned about whether Gill can receive their fruit, package it and bring it to market next season, he said.

Blueberries are Canada’s number one fruit export by volume and value, and the Abbotsford area is a “hot spot” for their production, Gill said. The berries had already “suffered tremendously” during the heat wave that scorched almost half of his crops, he said.

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It can take several years to develop the right soil conditions for growing blueberries, said Gill, who is concerned about the effects of pollutants in the floods.

While vegetables can be replanted annually, blueberry plants require years of care, first hardy enough to be grown outdoors and then tough enough to harvest, Gill said, adding that new blueberry plants are already in short supply.

It usually takes at least six years to see profits after planting blueberries, he said.

“Whoever is on the prairie and underwater has set them back at least a decade of hard work just to get back to the day before the flood,” he said.

“We are devastated and need financial relief and help as soon as possible.”

Like Sandhu, Gill has his sights set on rebuilding.

“I got this business from my parents and I have no plans to move,” he said. “We’re not going anywhere and we all have plans to expand further.”

Gill wants a guarantee that federal, provincial and local governments will do everything in their power to prevent such devastating floods from occurring in the future, he said, including fortifying levees and a major pumping station that almost fell out of place when the tide hit would have failed.

“I want to make sure that we build back stronger and make the Sumas prairie a shining gem again.”

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