Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gulf Islands Gold?

      “There’s gold on them thar islands!” or so it seems. With the recent news of mining claims covering much of the privately owned rural and agricultural land on North and South Pender, “not in my back yard” has taken on new meaning. Property owners have been consulting with legal counsel, elected officials, neighbours and government websites to try to make sense of it all. Both the Islands Trust and CRD are conferring with the Ministry of Energy and Mines. It appears that land with a building, the area around a house, orchards, cultivated land, heritage land and parks are not included, but that still leaves large rural areas open to exploration. It surprises many residents who thought mining of this nature was not allowed in the Gulf Islands, especially since such activity is counter to the “preserve and protect” mandate of the Islands Trust.
      According to the Ministry of Energy and Mines, claim staking with Mineral Titles Online, established in 2005, has been a game changer. Creating an easy to use online system was intended to streamline the process, which it certainly did. Mining claims in BC increased substantially as a result. But there were unintended consequences. “Online staking now allows claims to be acquired without ever setting foot on the land. MTO has significantly reduced the cost of acquiring a claim, and, as a result, has allowed some claims to be registered by persons who have no intention of ever conducting any mining activity on the land.”
      Although a property owner’s initial reaction is to prohibit entry of someone with a free miner’s certificate and claim to the subsurface mineral rights, the provincial mining laws trump any local laws or private property owner’s rights. In most cases the province owns the minerals under the surface, so even if you own the land they own everything under your land. Property owners should be aware of the Mining Tenure Act regulations, which require proper notice to be given and compensation paid to the surface rights property owner. This can be as simple as an agreement with the miner, or as complicated as a hearing with the Gold Commissioner or a surface rights arbitration board. 
      In the far north corner of the province, the regional government has helped arrange for a Farmers Advocacy Office to help landowners through the complicated process with a compensation arrangement that is as transparent and fair as possible. The FAO keeps a map and database clearly showing the terms of other surface rights agreements to help farmers with their own negotiations. In the case of the grain and forage growing Peace River area the subsurface resource being extracted is oil and gas, but the principle is the same.
      All of this harkens back to the gold rush days of the 1800’s. The earliest regulation of mining in BC came with the Gold Fields Proclamation of 1859, with the appointment of two gold commissioners for the Colony of British Columbia. The original Gold Fields “Act” was to promote land settlement at a time when the province was sparsely populated and mines were smaller. The establishment of a Gold Commissioner was to serve as the law in what was a lawless frontier. It speaks volumes that we still have need of a Gold Commissioner today, and that we allow our province to continually tweak an antiquated law that clearly needs an overhaul and an updating into the 21st century.
     The mining industry in BC is very strong and important to the BC economy. This fact is certainly not lost on our lawmakers. Perhaps a complete review is in order, and should include the importance that mineral and metal recycling may have on the environment and our economy. It is known that recycling has the advantage of energy savings and reduced pollution, in addition to the sparing effect on our environment from reduced mineral exploration. New tools and research in mining exploration can also reduce the damage to the surface and water resources and provide a targeted approach to mining, instead of a shotgun approach of yesteryear when land was seen as an unlimited resource and miners with no experience or training could stake claims over large expanses of land.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Free run, free range or just plain Free

   Caged, free run, free range or just plain free. You may be familiar with the first three terms, but “just plain free”? Raising livestock and poultry on a farm can be done different ways, depending on the facilities available, the inclination of the farmer and the market demand. Codes of practice in raising livestock and poultry are currently being revised and would also influence how animals are to be raised. But sometimes the animals take matters into their own hands (or hooves or wings).
    Last year we had a visitor fly into our farm. She was a lovely young Muscovy duck. Our two aged Muscovy drakes suddenly started to take better care of themselves, eating better, getting more exercise and grooming their feathers more. Their heads took on an Elvis Presley-style “pompadour” look.
    The female Muscovy eventually gave in to their charms, and in the spring she began to take on the nesting look and sounds – a bouncy waddle, puffed-and-fluffed up feathers, and a “ping” to her voice. We didn't know where she was nesting, but my husband found out on Mother's Day. She had hatched out fifteen babies on the porch above our deck. Glenn carefully gathered up the babies and brought them down a ladder to the ground below. Each time he went up the ladder she was waiting for him, attacking his head as he gathered more babies. Finally, she joined them on the lawn below, mothering them. We grew concerned as each day she would show up with one baby missing. It seemed that either a wild cat, or raven, or mink was snatching her ducklings. Out of desperation and with some encouragement by us, she started to sleep at night by our door, her wings gathered around her young ones. Five young ones survived – three males and two females. For quite some time they stayed each night by the door until they were big enough to fend for themselves. One day another female flew in to join them, and another male as well. I don't know where they came from. That is where the “just plain free” comes in.
    One of the challenges of “just plain free” is determining ownership. We did provide feed and protection to the ducks, but by the way they would go wherever they wanted I wasn't sure they belonged to us, or anyone. When the young ducks were big enough their mom spent a few weeks teaching them to fly. It was kind of a “OK, watch me do it, now you try” kind of trial and error. The mama duck would fly around the farm gracefully. Soon, the young ones would tentatively flap their wings and lift off for short runs, then longer ones. Sometimes they would fly over the ridge, sometimes into the neighbour's farm. One day I spotted a male and female looking lost on Port Washington Road. Somehow, this form of “just plain free” makes management a challenge. There are still three young ones that are by the door each morning, a bit hesitant about being so free. Some have been reported further down on Port Washington Road, hanging around at feeding time at one of the sheep farms. Yes, we could clip there wings, but should we? That would make them more vulnerable to predators.
    The same problem happened last year with our turkeys. All spring and summer they would stay close to home, eating lots of blackberries and such. At one point the females move far away from the males, as the females nest and go about raising their young. As fall came on they would move further afield, becoming an annoyance to some neighbours. I ended up gathering them into the barn and sending a batch at a time to the poultry swap and sales. The heritage turkeys have a way of getting up into trees, onto fence posts, or will go high on a hill to give themselves more range to fly over. I have spoken with other heritage turkey producers who occasionally need to go to the neighbours and gather up their stray turkeys, walking them home. At least I am not the only one.
    Even hooved animals can be in the category “just plain free”. A few years ago I took a healthy group of Border Cheviot sheep to a nearby farm of good size. That was my first mistake, because Border Cheviots have a wild nature. They settled into grazing, and as fall came it was quite a challenge to gather them and separate the lambs for market. The next year, it was impossible as a dog had chased and attacked them, so they would not be gathered by our Border Collie. I soon declared them “feral”, or back to wild sheep, and tried various ways to get them back to the home farm where I could use our corral to gather them up. As luck would have it, one evening the sheep decided to graze near the driveway, were spooked by a car on the driveway, ended up on the road, and the RCMP put them into our driveway and farm. Yes, the Mounties always get their lamb.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Abbotsford firm's egg has a daily dose of vitamin D

Abbotsford firm's egg has a daily dose of vitamin D

Abbotsford firm’s egg has a daily dose of vitamin D
 

Nutriva Group CEO Bill Vanderkooi holds one of the 10,000 hens his firm has laying eggs enriched with vitamin D in Abbotsford October 29, 2012.

Photograph by: Ric Ernst , VANCOUVER SUN

An Abbotsford-based farming innovation firm is launching the first egg that contains 100 per cent of an adult’s current daily requirement of vitamin D, as defined by Health Canada.
Each Vitala Vita D Sunshine egg contains 200 IU of vitamin D — about 5 micrograms — or seven times the amount found in a conventional egg, according to Bill Vanderkooi, owner of Nutriva, the firm that developed the egg and feed formula that produces it, and the parent company of Vitala.
A glass of milk fortified with vitamin D provides about 100 IU.
Vanderkooi is confident he will find a strong demand for an egg rich in vitamin D, as Health Canada is revising upward the recommended vitamin D intake for adults to as much as 800 IU per day, depending on age.
Feed for the hens is supplemented with plant-sourced vitamin D, said Vanderkooi. The supplement is produced by Montreal specialty yeast producer Lallemand.
The vitamin D content of eggs can be raised as high as 600 IU, according to Vanderkooi’s feed testing.
There is considerable interest in vitamin D among scientists. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with some cancers, bone density disorders, multiple sclerosis and impaired immune function.
“A lot more research needs to be done to assess the value of vitamin D for reducing the risk of all those diseases,” said Dr. Hal Gunn, CEO of Inspire Health cancer clinic. But, he said, a handful of studies on vitamin D and cancer have produced dramatic results.
A four-year study at Creighton University of 1,179 women published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that calcium and vitamin D reduced the risk of cancer by 60 per cent compared with the group taking placebos.
“It was very strong evidence that vitamin D can help prevent cancer,” said Gunn.
Five studies of particular kinds of cancer have found that people who have higher levels of vitamin D at the time of diagnosis are half as likely to have a recurrence or to die from their illness, he said.
People who live in northerly regions and who stay indoors most of the time are at risk of having low levels of vitamin D, which is naturally produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight.
“Supplementing with vitamin D in a place like Vancouver is really important because many of us don’t get enough vitamin D from sunshine,” said Gunn. “It seems to reduce the risk of a whole range of diseases.”
Gunn said a person in a bathing suit standing in the summer sun can produce more than 10,000 IU of vitamin D, a production rate that would have been quite normal for humans before the industrial age. Clothing, sunscreen and indoor lifestyles have all conspired to suppress our natural vitamin D production.
Eggs from the 10,000-hen flock will appear on the shelves of Overwaitea, Save-On Foods, Urban Fare, T&T and Choices Markets this week at a cost of about $3.49 a dozen, roughly 50 to 60 cents more than conventional table white eggs.
The flock is a conventional battery cage operation, which helps keep the price of the eggs affordable for a broader range of people, according to Vanderkooi.
Vitala also markets a free-run Omega-3 egg that has 100 IU of vitamin D produced by 20,000 cage-free hens. The Omega-3 eggs sell for about $5.50 a dozen.

Read more: http://www.vancouversun.com/Abbotsford+firm+daily+dose+vitamin/7479501/story.html#ixzz2AzRatA1n

Monday, October 22, 2012

Where have the bullfrogs gone?

Where have the bullfrogs gone? Late in the spring I would hear bullfrogs plopping into our ponds as I walked the water's edge. Then summer came and poof - no bullfrogs. No deep throaty noises at night. Some people spotted the odd frog dead by the road. But what happened to the invasion? On our farm, something made them go away. And we didn't do anything to remove or kill them.

Balancing Beavers

     When beavers first showed up in our pond, we had mixed reactions. I thought it would be great to have nature’s engineers maintaining our pond water levels, adding to a balanced ecosystem. And hey, they are Canada’s national animal and pretty interesting. My husband’s reaction was less than enthusiastic. “Oh no,” he said. “They will take out the trees and cause all kinds of damage.” We were both right. For a while the busy beavers worked nightly to plug holes in the pond and raise the water level. But the destruction – plugging the overflow drain, dropping trees around the pond, even a large cedar at the fence line. Trees landed across fences, resulting in the escape of several sheep. There were simply too many trees in too large an area to save by wrapping with chicken wire. After a few years the parents turfed out the eldest children in their clan, at first by punching a hole in the pond to create a new neighbouring pond. This just succeeded in flooding the neighbour’s field. So the kids moved on to the golf course, and were seen late at night waddling down the road.
       Besides the damage we can all see, there is the microscopic damage caused by the organisms they carry. “Beaver fever” caused by Giardia is a common occurrence when beavers move their homes into open drinking water systems. This organism causes severe gastric distress and diarrhoea and is no laughing matter to those affected. One of my sons contracted Giardia from playing on a river bank when were in California. He had severe diarrhoea for a year, even after diagnosis and treatment. Beavers can also carry E. coli and Salmonella. Even though we do not drink from this pond, we worried that such organisms would affect our garden’s irrigation water which came from this pond. When the damage and health risk from beavers are weighed against their benefits, it may become necessary to remove the beavers permanently from a water body.
      The CRD enlisted the help of a licenced trapper, trained in the Malaspina College (now Vancouver Island University) Resource Management diploma program to remove the beavers from a water system on Saturna Island. Private property owners who use ponds as drinking water systems have also used the same trapper to successfully remove beavers. It is important that people have the proper training, permits and licenses in place when they attempt to remove beavers from an area.
      At one time beavers were found in most ponds and lakes in the Gulf Islands. In fact, they probably built most of the ponds years ago. They would build dams which would hold water, flooding the land behind the dam, creating a wetland area rich with life. The Hudson’s Bay Company had a base on San Juan Island and proceeded to trap all the beavers in the area for their pelts. In recent years, as farmers have been digging ponds for irrigation, developments building their own human-made dams for drinking water and predators (except for man) absent the stage is set for beaver numbers to increase. There is little interest in trapping them for their pelts these days, at least around these parts. Their introduction is believed to be via driftwood logs and log booms, but introduction by humans cannot be ruled out entirely.
      As beavers become re-established throughout the Gulf and San Juan Islands there will no doubt be conflicts between people who see only the cute Canadian symbol on the nickel, the master builders who engineer ecosystems that suit their needs and enhance wetlands, and those who are concerned about the health and safety risks and the unwanted damage and flooding that can occur. There will be a need to understand these animals and balance their presence, often called “the most destructive creatures next to man”.




Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why you don't put all your eggs in one basket - E. coli and XL Foods


Campbell Farm abattoir - CFIA inspected
      A few days ago I went to Saturna Island to pick up one of my lambs that was being processed at Campbell Farm's abattoir. The lamb was for a special local food event, a Farms Dinner at Poets Cove Resort on Pender Island, profiling many of Pender Islands' farms and food producers. While I was there, I picked up three boxes of beef from Campbell farm, labelled with the beef's name “Flippers”. I know that Flippers had to just walk down the valley to be slaughtered in a clean, calm environment. I know the CFIA inspector was on site to supervise each step of the process; first, to ensure the animal was healthy, second, to ensure that it was killed humanely. The inspector would then focus on the cleanliness of the entire operation and process, from the hide removal, to the removal of the internal organs, the inspection of the internal organs, and a close visual inspection of the carcass with a final wash using clean water, tested for purity. Only then does the inspector put the government stamp on the meat, just before it is put into the cooler. After chilling for several days, the meat would be cut and wrapped and ready to prepare.
      Jacques Campbell and I talked about the importance of a local food system like this one. Small scale and local, completely traceable to the source. Each animal processed individually. An inspection system that is looking out for the health of the public.
XL Foods Inc. plant - CFIA inspected
      So what went wrong at the XL plant, and why did it go wrong? XL Foods Inc. is the largest Canadian owned and operated beef processor. One would expect that such a plant, federally inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), shipping meat far and wide, would have extra scrutiny upon it. Since the identification of E. coli 0157 back in the 80's, much has been learned about the organism. It is known that many animals carry the organism. Cattle who carry the bacteria do not show any symptoms of disease, and some animals can shed huge amounts of the bacteria in their feces. It is known that the organism spreads easily from animal to animal, and feedlots with their high animal densities and high grain diets have the highest proportion of infected animals. Even so, the rate of infection within feedlot pens can vary widely. Infections come and go with animals, and most infections are temporary, lasting about four weeks. Some beef can be super-shedders, and some believe all it would take is one or two super-shedders, some sloppy slaughtering and less than perfect conditions for the meat to become infected in a plant such as XL.
Econiche, vaccine developed by Brett Finlay's team at UBC
       Given these facts, a research team led by Brett Finlay, a UBC microbiologist at the Michael Smith Laboratories, developed a vaccine to E. coli 0157:H7 for use in cattle that can significantly reduce the amount of bacteria shed, in order to protect public health. The vaccine “Econiche” is licensed by Bioniche Life Sciences Inc. Rick Culbert, President of Bioniche Food Safety, describes the vaccine as “the world's first fully licensed vaccine for use in cattle to reduce shedding of E. coli 0157”. He said “there are a few producers (both beef and dairy) that have faithfully been using the vaccine. These producers do so because they believe it is the right thing to do.” Because of the lack of symptoms in cattle, and the lack of negative impact on productivity, the vaccine is perhaps seen more as an added expense. “As the majority of cattlemen are commodity oriented, with resistance to input costs, the product over all has less than 5% market penetration.” Mr. Culbert adds that most enquiries into the vaccine following the XL outbreak have been by consumers and media, not by cattle producers. “I suppose that is appropriate in that the vaccine is not for the benefit of the cattle. It is for the benefit of the consumer – by reducing the risk of E. coli 0157 exposure.” In Bioniche's recent annual report, President Graham McRae said “ sales of our E. coli 0157 vaccine – Econiche – have been limited to date as there is presently no mandatory requirement for cattlemen in Canada to vaccinate their animals, nor do they receive any compensation or incentive to do so.”
      Some of the cattle producers that are using the vaccine are those that show cattle, and don't want to risk their animals contracting the disease on the show circuit, or passing on any such bacteria to the public at the fairs. Other users are often special label beef, that can use the reduction or absence of the E. coli 0157 as a marketing feature for public safety. Many producers, and especially feedlot operators, have an interest in using the vaccine but would like to see research trial results and work done to reduce the number of injections from three to two. Some are looking forward to trials that are testing probiotics that can perhaps compete with E. coli 0157.
       And then there is the simple observation made several years ago that a forage-based diet of grass and hay will reduce the shedding of the bacteria. Even so, E. coli 0157 is so infectious in humans that it does not take very many bacteria to cause an infection. Even with reduced numbers at the animal level, there still needs to be good slaughter practices of meat. Enormous plants with fast lines and minimal inspection practices are the last thing we need to have safemeat.
      A recent press release by XL outlines a plan that should significantly reduce such incidents in the future. It includes holding all carcasses until test results are completed. That should have been the standard in a plant as large as this all along, knowing that it was a matter of time before the system failed. And the CFIA should not be off the hook and pointing fingers. There is no reason why a CFIA inspector at the plant could not have stopped the line or ordered that procedures be changed as soon as deficiencies were noted. Small plants, like Jacques Campbell's, are under such CFIA scrutiny every time they slaughter. Why not the big federal plants? Local food just looks better and better.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Rural Blog: New fracking film starring Matt Damon set for release..

The Rural Blog: New fracking film starring Matt Damon set for rele...: A new film about hydraulic fracturing will hit theaters this December, but this time it's a feature film, not a documentary. "Promised Land"stars Matt Damon as Steve Butler, a gas company representative who comes to a rural, economically depressed town offering financial salvation in exchange for natural gas drilling leases. The film is being directed by Oscar-nominated director Gus Van Sant, who directed Damon in "Good Will Hunting."..

Saturday, September 15, 2012

George Ross-Smith 1937-2012

George on left, with Isaac Grimmer, Martha McMahon and Wally Bradley stooking hay
      Pender Island lost long-time resident and retired farmer George Ross-Smith on Wednesday, September 5th 2012 at Saanich Peninsula Hospital. George was just over a month from his 75th birthday, and although his health had declined in recent years it was still a shock to hear of his passing.
      George Alfred Ross-Smith was born October 14th, 1937 in Cornwall, Ontario. In 1947 George's father Ashton bought the big Menzies farm on Pender Island and moved the family to the farm, a few years before Pender Island had electricity. George loved the freedom of the farm and the island, causing a bit of a stir with his brother Ian whenever he could. George spent many an hour chasing sheep back to the farm in his childhood, as we all know how sheep ignore fences.
      In his teens, George went to Montreal and became an electrician. He married Marilyn in 1963, and next year they would have been celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary. In 1965 George and Marilyn and their growing family moved from Montreal to Pender Island. There was a lot of work for young people on the island at the time with the new Magic Lake Estates development. George worked as an electrician on the project, and he later worked in Vancouver on the construction of the Bentall Buildings. After that he worked for the Ministry of Transportation, later with JJM, maintaining the roads of Pender Island.
      George was also a farmer. George raised cattle and sheep, and produced hay on the Ross-Smith Farm for many years. At first he worked on the road crew full time, and managed to farm when he could make the time. He often spoke of how he looked forward to retirement so that he could farm full time. He especially liked the hay season and would spend many hours on his tractor, mowing, raking and baling. Many island children had their farm experience with George, helping lift bales onto the wagon and getting a good old fashioned hay ride to the big barn at the back of the farm. He also was a great help to those with small hay fields and no equipment. George would methodically move his tractor and equipment to the various acreages to make sure the hay was cut. George would help out if someone needed thistles cut, or a field tilled for a market garden. George was more than a farmer, he was a farmer's farmer. He would help anyone out. He taught newer farmers various skills. When he wasn't physically able to do the tractor work anymore, or keep livestock anymore, he allowed other farmers to cut hay and keep livestock on his farm.
      George also took a great interest in community. George was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion for 52 years. For many years George was a member of the Farmers' Institute, and he took a special interest in the Fall Fair. George volunteered as one of Angus McMonnie's assistants for the famous fall fair barbeque, back to when it first started. Even in later years as George passed the torch to the younger barbeque cooks, he would still show up and enjoy helping where he could. When the fair moved to the current site at the Community Hall next to his farm, George allowed parking in his hay field for several years, taking the time to mow the field a second time just before the fair. He helped set up and take down and enjoyed it very much. But the first year he would not allow parking there because he said when the Hall was built, there was not enough parking spaces allotted. Of course, he was right. That first year the parking was a bit of a disaster as cars went far and wide up and down roads. George just wanted to prove his point. George had also written to the Agricultural Land Commission to ensure that the Hall land remained in the ALR, which it does with the understanding that the Hall will support agriculture. George was also supportive of the Community Garden which is located on Ross-Smith Farm, which he tilled for them when he was physically able.
      There will be a graveside service at Pender Island Cemetery 12:00 pm Saturday September 15, 2012. A celebration of life will follow at the Royal Canadian Legion on Pender Island.
George second from right at Fall Fair BBQ, with left to right Aaron Grimmer, Michael Bradley, unknown, Fred Wiercyski , photo by Kelly Irving.
      George was predeceased by his son Scott. He is survived by his wife Marilyn, son Randall (Soinia) daughter Catherine, grandsons Geoffrey, Nicholas, Jorden, J. J and granddaughter Britney. He is also survived by his sister Jean (Wally) Bradley and brother Ian, and many nieces and nephews. George was a true island character, an independent soul who had a wide circle of friends and interests. He will be dearly missed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Make hay while the sun shines

Wally Bradley pitching hay
                             “Make hay while the sun shines”
Latin proverb
As a third-generation farmer and largest hay producer on the Peninsula, I can tell you what real farming is. It means surviving in a global agriculture marketplace.” Bryce Rashleigh, farmer
      Farmers who make hay in the summer start thinking about making hay in the spring. The grass is growing after a winter’s sleep, and the hay in the barn is nearly all gone; if you’re lucky you might have a good reserve to sell your less lucky neighbour who ran out already. Equipment will be pulled out, greased up, tested and parts replaced. Maybe the farmer has been to a few early spring farm auctions to pick up a “nu-to-yu” tractor, mower, rake or baler. When the grass is ready to shoot ahead in growth, the farmer might spread some fertilizer on the fields to ensure a good yield. Perhaps a field or two may be completely renovated, which means tilling, rock picking, raking, planting, and irrigating.
the crew
      The farmer has an eye on the weather at this time, hoping for warm rains to help the grass grow, and warm stretches of dry sun just at the time of cutting, curing, raking and baling. Only comedy is more reliant on timing and perception than farming. Then again, maybe they are about the same in that respect. Because if you don’t hit it all just right, nobody is laughing. There is no rest or celebrating until the last bale is in the barn. Hopefully, none of it was rained on. Hopefully, none of the equipment broke down in the process. Once the hay is all in, the farmer should have enough hay to last six months. Part of having a sustainable farm is being able to produce and store your own feed for your own livestock so they can enjoy their own “100 mile diet” year round.
the whole family pitches in
      All of this takes a lot of work, and is a central activity of many farms. So how is it that in the past couple of years I have heard that producing hay is not really farming? What is a farm and what is farming? We all know it is a place where food, fibre and perhaps flowers are grown or raised or produced. Sometimes farms are subsistent and produce only for the residents of the farm. Sometimes farms are very productive, supplying food to many people who do not farm at all. Many types, sizes and definitions. So how is producing hay not really farming? Perhaps people who think this do not realize that hay is just one step removed from the beef or lamb on your plate.
      Bryce Rashleigh of Central Saanich makes a living producing hay on his own and other’s land. He keeps state of the art equipment, employs 7-10 people a year, and prides himself on being a very good farmer. He believes that hay farms are keeping the land in farming until the economics of farming improve. There is good demand for hay in these parts. Many small farmers do not have the land base or capital to grow their own hay, so they must buy it from someone who does, or have someone like Bryce cut their hay for them. Farmers will grow what they can sell. If you see land in hay and not “food” such as carrots or beans, think about what might be behind this. Bryce and many other farmers blame the global supermarket on the cheap food and labour that Canadian farmers have to compete against. In the west we have an overabundance of food from all over the world in our supermarkets. If the consumer bought local food, or requested the supermarket to source out and carry local produce, there would be the demand to encourage more local vegetables and fruits to be produced here. Otherwise, farmers will just keep growing what they can sell. With predictions that global food production will have to double by the year 2030 to meet the escalating demand for food, maybe rising food prices and higher transportation costs will drive up the price of imported food, making locally produced foods more competitive.

Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you're a thousand miles from the corn field.” Dwight D. Eisenhower





Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Tired" - photo by Kelly Hofer, ex-Hutterite, and story on my visit to a Hutterite farm

     I was in Alberta for a sheep meeting a while back, and since we made a family visit/road trip out of it, it seemed a good time and place to look around for Border Collies. One of the ads we called said he had just the dog for me, so out we went.
     The farm was a huge grain and livestock operation on 6,000 acres, with several barns and buildings, and what looked like an apartment complex. There was no farm sign, no clear indication that this was anything but a big ubiquitous Alberta farm. The fellow with the dogs answered our questions, and then seemed quite pleased to grant our request for a short tour. We all went across the road to the main farm complex, and immediately it became apparent that this was a Hutterite farm. All the men were dressed in black, even the boys. No women were in sight. The children quickly swarmed around our vehicle, as curious about us as we were about them.
     Since it was winter, the tour started with their main workplace – the shop. They first showed us their woodworking shop. Then they showed us their pride and joy - a high tech computerized metal fabricating shop to make customized attachments for Bobcats. Many Hutterite colonies have diversified into manufacturing, some have developed value-added farm products, like pancake mixes or wool comforters. The needs to keep men working year round and contributing to the colony as they have adapted farming technologies that reduce labour requirements, and the need for capital to expand their operations, are the drivers behind the diversification into manufacturing.
     After the tour of the workshops, we got into a big farm truck to go feed the cattle. The cattle were sleek and healthy, and were fed a chopped mix of grain and forage. We noticed the absence of a radio in the truck. The influences of the outside world are minimized here, yet they still are on the fore front of any technologies that could enhance their farm.
     The colony also had a large layer operation. We entered the layer barn at the egg handling area. The eggs came in by conveyer belts, automatically picking up the eggs as they were laid and delivering them to be graded, sorted, washed, packed then put into a cooler. The packing area was tiled from floor to ceiling and very clean. We weren’t allowed into the layer barn, but could see inside where the chickens were. The colony also had pigs and meat chickens, and produced all of their own grain, hay and straw. They also had a large garden to produce vegetables for the colony.
     After I got home I researched Hutterites on the internet, and was particularly impressed by a Flickr site called the “Shutterite”, a young Hutterite’s photos of his colony and their work. Not long after I was looking at the photos, the site became closed to visitors or shut down, and I wondered what happened to the brilliant photographer. Then I opened my Western Producer last week and there were the unmistakable images of Kelly Hofer, laid out in full colour splendour in the center of the widely read farm paper. The article about him mentioned that although his photos have shown his colony in a good light, the religious leaders are not comfortable with the attention this has brought Kelly. Individualism is not encouraged in a Hutterite colony, where everyone works for the good of the group. I was further pleased to see one of Kelly Hofer’s photos on the front page of the National Post only a week after the Western Producer feature. The photo was of a Hutterite girl in traditional dress, sitting in the rim of an enormous tractor tire out in a big farm field. The article that went with it was about Kelly and his life as a Hutterite photographer, and the struggle the Hutterites face balancing adoption of modern technology and adherence to traditional communal values. The article went on to say that Kelly had decided to leave the colony, a personal decision to pursue his gift.
     Whatever people may say about the Hutterite culture, they are among the most successful, productive, innovative farmers in Canada and the US. Hutterites came to North America in the 1800's, encouraged by the promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to grow their pacifist communities. They have somehow managed to blend their old-style communal traditions and strong work ethic with state of the art farm technology, easily adopting cooperative agricultural management and economies of scale to achieve a level of success non-Hutterites sometimes resent. Their colonies are self-contained, with their own schools, churches, abattoirs and all the services a small community would need. They have a communal structure where all assets are shared, none are individually owned, and their traditions are deeply ingrained and rigid.
    Since 1949 when the first colony came to Saskatchewan, they expanded their land holdings to over 2% of all agricultural land in that province, over half a million acres, by 1993. In 2009, Hutterites owned over 40% of all hogs in Manitoba, and over a third of all hogs in Alberta, even though they represented less than 10% of the operations. In South Dakota, Hutterites raise 50-60% of the hogs, in Montana, 90%. Colonies in Montana also produce 98% of the eggs using state-of-the-art equipment. In BC, colonies are in the Peace River area, many raising sheep, cattle and grain.
    These aren’t what some would call family farms, but they are.

Hutterite Farms


      I was in Alberta for a sheep meeting a while back, and since we made a family visit/road trip out of it, it seemed a good time and place to look around for Border Collies. One of the ads we called said he had just the dog for me, so out we went.
      The farm was a huge grain and livestock operation on 6,000 acres, with several barns and buildings, and what looked like an apartment complex. There was no farm sign, no clear indication that this was anything but a big ubiquitous Alberta farm. The fellow with the dogs answered our questions, and then seemed quite pleased to grant our request for a short tour. We all went across the road to the main farm complex, and immediately it became apparent that this was a Hutterite farm. All the men were dressed in black, even the boys. No women were in sight. The children quickly swarmed around our vehicle, as curious about us as we were about them.
      Since it was winter, the tour started with their main workplace – the shop. They first showed us their woodworking shop. Then they showed us their pride and joy - a high tech computerized metal fabricating shop to make customized attachments for Bobcats. Many Hutterite colonies have diversified into manufacturing, some have developed value-added farm products, like pancake mixes or wool comforters. The needs to keep men working year round and contributing to the colony as they have adapted farming technologies that reduce labour requirements, and the need for capital to expand their operations, are the drivers behind the diversification into manufacturing.
      After the tour of the workshops, we got into a big farm truck to go feed the cattle. The cattle were sleek and healthy, and were fed a chopped mix of grain and forage. We noticed the absence of a radio in the truck. The influences of the outside world are minimized here, yet they still are on the fore front of any technologies that could enhance their farm.
      The colony also had a large layer operation. We entered the layer barn at the egg handling area. The eggs came in by conveyer belts, automatically picking up the eggs as they were laid and delivering them to be graded, sorted, washed, packed then put into a cooler. The packing area was tiled from floor to ceiling and very clean. We weren’t allowed into the layer barn, but could see inside where the chickens were. The colony also had pigs and meat chickens, and produced all of their own grain, hay and straw. They also had a large garden to produce vegetables for the colony.
Tired, a photo by Kelly Hofer on Flickr
      After I got home I researched Hutterites on the internet, and was particularly impressed by a Flickr site called the “Shutterite”, a young Hutterite’s photos of his colony and their work. Not long after I was looking at the photos, the site became closed to visitors or shut down, and I wondered what happened to the brilliant photographer. Then I opened my Western Producer last week and there were the unmistakable images of Kelly Hofer, laid out in full colour splendour in the center of the widely read farm paper. The article about him mentioned that although his photos have shown his colony in a good light, the religious leaders are not comfortable with the attention this has brought Kelly. Individualism is not encouraged in a Hutterite colony, where everyone works for the good of the group. I was further pleased to see one of Kelly Hofer’s photos on the front page of the National Post only a week after the Western Producer feature. The photo was of a Hutterite girl in traditional dress, sitting in the rim of an enormous tractor tire out in a big farm field. The article that went with it was about Kelly and his life as a Hutterite photographer, and the struggle the Hutterites face balancing adoption of modern technology and adherence to traditional communal values. The article went on to say that Kelly had decided to leave the colony, a personal decision to pursue his gift.
      Whatever people may say about the Hutterite culture, they are among the most successful, productive, innovative farmers in Canada and the US. Hutterites came to North America in the 1800's, encouraged by the promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to grow their pacifist communities. They have somehow managed to blend their old-style communal traditions and strong work ethic with state of the art farm technology, easily adopting cooperative agricultural management and economies of scale to achieve a level of success non-Hutterites sometimes resent. Their colonies are self-contained, with their own schools, churches, abattoirs and all the services a small community would need. They have a communal structure where all assets are shared, none are individually owned, and their traditions are deeply ingrained and rigid.
      Since 1949 when the first colony came to Saskatchewan, they expanded their land holdings to over 2% of all agricultural land in that province, over half a million acres, by 1993. In 2009, Hutterites owned over 40% of all hogs in Manitoba, and over a third of all hogs in Alberta, even though they represented less than 10% of the operations. In South Dakota, Hutterites raise 50-60% of the hogs, in Montana, 90%. Colonies in Montana also produce 98% of the eggs using state-of-the-art equipment. In BC, colonies are in the Peace River area, many raising sheep, cattle and grain.
     These aren’t what some would call family farms, but they are.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

In remembrance of John Wilcox


“Our imperative now lies not in how to grow this or how to market that. What’s critical is a rebirth of BC farm Leadership. In BC, only one half of one percent of the province still farms, and our provincial government spending on agriculture, by percentage of GDP, is the lowest in Canada. We need new mortgage systems to enable investment in farmland. Using the Agricultural Land Reserve to grow our own food will never happen without such enabled investment – and such investment requires leadership.”
John Wilcox, Salt Spring Island farmer, farm leader and farm writer
     
     The farm community lost a prominent voice, strong leader, good friend and mentor when John Wilcox passed away on June 15th at age 72. John was a sixth- generation farmer/agronomist and agriculture school graduate who owned and operated Duck Creek Farm on Salt Spring Island with his life partner Sue Earle. Over the past twenty years, since moving the family farm from Ontario to BC, John was an active member and served on the boards of directors of several farm and conservation organizations.
      Active is perhaps an understatement. In a notice to all District "A" Farmers’ Institute members, Jenny McLeod, Secretary of District A said “He WAS District "A" Farmers’ Institute and our resident historian. He gave his all for farmers and farming and gave a voice to small scale farmers throughout BC. He was a founder of FARM Community Council and a real contributor to agriculture in BC.”
      John also had interests beyond our borders and was at the forefront of many initiatives. As a new graduate in 1961, he went to rural India as an agricultural volunteer and became a founding member of Canadian Volunteers Overseas, now Canadian University Students Overseas (CUSO). His current positions included membership in BC Farm Writers Association, Island Natural Growers and Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce. John was also a Conservation Partner with The Land Conservancy of BC. In 2007 John received a Life Time Achievement Award for Dedicated Service to Community Agriculture and District “A” Farmers Institute for his many years serving on boards for Islands Farmers Institute, Island Natural Growers, District "A" Farmers’ Institute, BC Federation of Agriculture, FARM Community Council, Investment Agriculture and the BC Agriculture Council.
      His crowning achievement was Duck Creek Farm, an organic market garden and biodiverse conservation area. He had to work hard, for many years, to earn the money to buy and develop the land into a viable, productive farm and home. His success as a farmer was recognized by the business community, as he was awarded the first ever Salt Spring Island Chamber of Commerce Home Based Business Award in 2006, and the Agricultural/Farm Business of the Year Award in 2011.
     For years John Wilcox wrote pearls of wisdom in his “Barn Side” column, prominently featured with his infectious smile on the editorial pages of the widely-read farm paper, Country Life in BC. His columns dissected government policies and actions, presented opinions and ideas, in essence not just thinking out loud but talking (or shouting) out loud to anyone who would listen. His style was all his own. The farmer-activist, who used his pen as his weapon, or tool, was vital in communicating to policy makers, other farmers and the public. His personal frustrations with the ever-growing counterproductive bureaucracies became the catalyst for his activism and his actions. His early working life included government positions in both Ontario and BC in the golden years of extension services for farmers, so he had a good idea of what farmers needed, and what government could provide.
       John was also known as “Johnny Canuck”, for his anti-Free Trade mission in 1988 highlighted by a cross-Canada round trip in a 1941 maple leaf-painted Chevy. It is so appropriate that his life will be celebrated on Canada Day, July 1st, at Fulford Hall, starting at 3 pm.
      John is survived by his brother, Jim Wilcox, daughter Lisa Wilcox, first wife Judith Stuart, daughters Samantha Wilcox and Emma Rubatscher (Jon), second wife Lynda Wilcox, stepson Dan Brooke (Erica), granddaughter Megan Brooke, partner Sue Earle, stepson Eland Bronstein and daughter Ella Bronstein.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Tent Caterpillars invade Gulf Islands


      Tent caterpillars are upon us again this year, with a vengeance. We watched the tents forming on our apple trees and the surrounding alders and hawthorns, and with a few warm days we saw an explosion of caterpillars. They love the heat. Even though the damage to individual trees can be severe, they usually grow back foliage by the summer and rarely are trees killed, so there is no need for panic and drastic measures, like cutting your trees down.
      Still, it is hard to stand idly by and watch the drastic defoliation that occurs in a tent caterpillar outbreak.
I thought last year was pretty bad, and asked Judith Myers, Saturna resident and UBC researcher, some questions about tent caterpillars. Judith has studied western tent caterpillars and their biological controls for several years, and has several study areas, including Saturna, Westham, Galiano and Mandarte Islands and the Cyress Mountain area.
      According to Dr. Myers, the severity of outbreaks varies with a cycle of approximately eight to ten years, and different regions are not all in the same part of the cycle at the same time. Last year Saturna was experiencing a peak year with a lot of disease, whereas Galiano was quite healthy and will probably be on their way to peaking.
      The caterpillars hatch into moths, which lay many eggs so have the potential to increase. When they get very dense they get a viral disease that is specific to them. That kills many of them. As parasites build up in the tent caterpillars, and they defoliate the trees, their numbers begin to decline. They are a native insect and their natural targets are the deciduous trees, especially red alders, and the hawthorns and wild roses. Their preferred hosts are alder, apple, ash, birch, cherry, cottonwood, willow, fruit trees, and roses. During heavy infestations, the tent caterpillars will migrate and feed on many other plants.
      Dr. Myers says that the tent caterpillars are probably doing particularly well because humans create disturbances which increase the number of red alder trees and fruit trees that they can feed on. If they are just left alone, they will naturally decline and continue their cycle, but most people want to prevent or treat the outbreaks on their fruit trees. With a few trees, hand picking and cutting off nests, in the evenings when the caterpillars return to their nests, can help to reduce damage. The cut-off nests are burned or put into bags and sealed for disposal. Some orchards use Btk spray (Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki ) which is good for hard to reach areas. The microbial sprays based on this bacterium work only after a caterpillar eats a piece of leaf with Btk crystal proteins and spores on it. The proteins dissolve in the highly alkaline conditions found in a caterpillar gut and this paralyses their digestive tract. This causes the caterpillar to stop feeding and eventually to starve. Btk is non-toxic to humans, other mammals, birds, snakes, fish, earthworms and most other insects. It is an excellent choice for caterpillar control because it does not harm the beneficial insects and other animals that keep caterpillar numbers low. Btk must be eaten by caterpillars to have an effect, therefore it should only be used when caterpillars are actively feeding. It does not work on eggs, pupae or adult stages. For best results, spray in the evening, when no rain is expected. Use a fine spray and ensure that both sides of leaves are thoroughly covered. However, if only the apple trees are protected, caterpillars can move on to them later in the season from other host plants nearby.
Removing eggs and small tents, spraying, and continual vigilance can reduce the problem and protect the trees. The BT sprays have been widely used for years, are safe, and don't kill off the natural enemies of the moths.
      Tent caterpillars have many native enemies including birds, yellow jackets and other predatory wasps, parasitic flies, tiny parasitic wasps and predatory bugs as well as viruses, bacteria and fungus diseases. Encouraging these native enemies is the most environmentally sound (and often the simplest and least expensive) method of suppressing tent caterpillars.


Friday, April 27, 2012

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Government amendments to Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act reduces SPCA power, improves transparency and fairness


     The BC government has announced an amendment to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act that will establish the Farm Industry Review Board as the organization to hear appeals from citizens regarding animal welfare issues where the BC SPCA has seized an animal. Previous to this, the SPCA had powers to seize and the only way British Columbians could appeal was to take the matter to court. Another amendment requires the Society to provide the Minister of Agriculture with information related to the enforcement of the Act. The Act was also amended to allow the minister to draft bylaws outlining enforcement procedures and to appoint others to enforce the Act. The intended outcome is to improve transparency and fairness to animal welfare enforcement actions.
      What was the trigger to this? The amendment began as a result of public outcry over heavy-handed enforcement by the BC SPCA, and the Province's desire for increased transparency. Last fall, nearly 100 rare breed Berkshire pigs were seized from a Cowichan Valley farm by the SPCA, triggering a reaction from the community that raised questions about the way the SPCA operates and the power that the organization has. It seemed that the SPCA thought it would be a textbook case of going in to take abused animals out of a poor situation, but it proved to be more complicated than that. The event coincided with a fall campaign to raise money for the SPCA by raising awareness about farm animals and the SPCA certified program, which provides a third party audit to farms that want to use the SPCA certified label on their farm products.
      The event also coincided with the fall meetings and AGMs that farmers have. The seizure of the pigs was an emotional topic of discussion at the BC Sheep Federation AGM held in Duncan; many participants knew the farmer who owned the Berkshires, a rare breed that were sold as weaners to other farmers. There were people there who bought pigs from Bill and found them to be in good health. They spoke of how much Bill loved his pigs. Was it necessary to take away all of his pigs in such a manner, which would probably result in boarding costs that eventually exceed the value of the pigs? There were many people who would have helped Bill out by taking some of the excess pigs, if they had known. A group of volunteers quickly organized and contacted the SPCA and Bill with offers to find homes for the pigs and help any way they could. Many letters from farmers and non-farmers were written to local papers, supporting Bill. Based on this incident and others throughout BC, a resolution was passed at the BCSF AGM to write a letter to the Minister of Agriculture about this situation and others regarding the SPCA seizing livestock.
      But it isn't a simple case of an overzealous SPCA conducting their mandate, although there have been indications that the SPCA did exert a lot of muscle by using the RCMP. It was fortunate that the SPCA brought in the BC Farm Animal Care Council, a new producer organization that's role is to work with producers regarding animal welfare. The BCFACC suggested bringing in a retired and well respected pig producer, who was instrumental in buying Bill some time with another two weeks to improve the housing. The pigs were overall in better condition that the authorities expected because they are hardy Berkshires, but there was concern over the mud and housing. Bill was known to be overwhelmed with the work involved in feeding and caring for his growing breeding herd, and he struggled with the challenges of keeping several boars for the rare breed. Hindsight is 20/20 as they say, and Bill slipped between the cracks as a small farmer who is on his own with little support. Notwithstanding that, he worked hard to improve the housing in the two weeks, which was recognized by the industry experts but the SPCA decided to seize the pigs anyways because not enough progress had been made.
      The veterinarian and former pig producer were asked to leave by the SPCA prior to the seizure, so they did not witness the loading or new location for the pigs. There were reports that the boars were put together and ended up fighting and injuring each other, resulting in some being put down. The housing they were moved to was an open barn, not a pig barn with separate pens, so the more vulnerable pigs were at risk - while under the SPCA's care.
One suggestion to come out of this was to have the BCFACC set up a peer network so that if there are SPCA complaints regarding livestock, there are producer associations and farmers institutes available to advise SPCA and help the farmers who are trying to comply but lack the resources and support to do so. The rapid and organized response to Bill's situation by various farm groups and individuals in the Cowichan Valley and beyond indicate that this approach may greatly improve the efforts of the SPCA to achieve their mandate in a more sensible way.
     The new changes to the Act will encourage the SPCA to adopt such changes in their procedures to ensure that knowledgeable people enforce the Act in a fair way. The involvement of the FIRB, an established and experienced tribunal, is a logical choice given that the FIRB is already empowered to hear appeals under the Natural Products Marketing Act, The Administrative Tribunals Act and the Farm Practices Protection Act. The board reports to the Minister of Agriculture in matters of administration, but is independent of government in decision-making. The board may require the animal be returned to its owner, allow the SPCA determine the fate of an animal, or confirm or vary the costs for which the animal owner is liable to the BC SPCA while the animal was in its care. The BC FIRB will only hear appeals after attempts to resolve through the BC SPCA’s own 28-day internal review process, but knowing that the BCFIRB could become involved, the BC SPCA should respond with greater fairness and transparency than they have in the past.



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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Salt Spring Abattoir to Open For Business This Spring


A few years ago the government changed the Meat Regulations to require inspection of all facilities slaughtering meat in the province. The upgrades required were costly for many operators, so all around the province, and in the Gulf Islands, local abattoirs shut down. Animals needed to be transported off-island, since most Gulf Islands did not have licenced facilities. The off-island abattoirs available were often over-booked, creating bottle-necks or long waits. Based on surveys in 2004 and 2010, it became apparent that there was a significant decline in meat production on Salt Spring Island. The newly formed Salt Spring Agricultural Alliance prioritized the building of a Salt Spring abattoir, and decided on a mobile processing unit with an accessory modular cut and wrap facility. With a twelve person committee, the Alliance worked hard at fund raising to “Save Salt Spring Lamb”, one of the region’s most famous foods.
Is it on budget? Yes, with the help of donations, price discounts and recycled materials, the plans are becoming reality. At a price of $350,000, the fund raising efforts have been very successful and is very, very close to its goal.. The government is providing $150,000 in matching funds, and about $200,000 has been raised so far. The Salt Spring Agricultural Alliance was awarded $50,000 from VanCity’s enviroFund to increase local food production on Salt Spring Island. This helped push the project ahead in hiring a construction manager.
Is it on time? No, it was hoped that it would be up and running in the fall of 2011. A nine month delay was experienced waiting for the plans to be approved by the BC Centre for Disease Control. There were many changes required to the plans but they are now approved.
What is done so far? The selected location has industrial zoning, is flat and well drained and has good road access. The property owner is also a farmer , which will make his farm’s transportation to the plant just a walk across the field. The Islands Trust gave the project a Temporary Use Permit, which is good for three years and can be renewed once. At that point, the abattoir location will be reassessed. The Trust also required a riparian assessment to be done because of a pond and some drainage areas in the vicinity.
A new ecoflow peat filtered septic field was installed by Ken Byron. There is a travel trailer for a site office, lunch room and change area for abattoir staff. Three modular structures were framed in when I was given a tour by Margaret Thomson and Mike Robertson– the offal room for the guts, the cooler, the cut and wrap room which will also hold a freezer, along with the washroom and office for the inspector. The crew was working on the hide room when I was there. The CRD building department required each of the modules, which can be moved, to be ten feet apart so walkways are being built to connect the modules. The drawings have been prepared by Brent Baker, who is the construction manager. Brent is a principal partner in Shibui Design, and has been involved in cost effective planning and construction for over thirty years. Brent is also the son in law of Mike Byron, long time Salt Spring farmer who was one of the islanders who processed livestock for the community before the regulations changed.
Although the modules for the abattoir are being constructed on Salt Spring with local labour, the trailer unit which will be used for slaughtering of both red meat and poultry is being made in Coombs. Once the abattoir has its licence, hopefully in April, there will be two test slaughter days – one for red meat, and one for poultry.
The one detail left is to select staff to run the abattoir. The SSI Agricultural Alliance is now looking for “expressions of interest and creative proposals from individuals, groups or other entities who are interested in running ongoing operations of the abattoir as well as anyone interested in being part of the operations team for this exciting new local food venture.” They are anxious to receive proposals by March 15th so that they can be up and running this spring. To submit a proposal, contact Anne Macey annemacey@shaw.ca or mail to SSI Agricultural Alliance, 106 Old Scott Road, SSI V8K 2L6.
But if you build it, will they come? Already, based on a survey of poultry producers, there is greater demand than anticipated originally. Many red meat producers have been expanding their herds and flocks. Consumers, chefs and retail outlets have shown great interest in receiving a dependable supply of fresh local meat, truly in the hundred mile diet way.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Canada Geese invasion


Pender Island golf course on a January day
      I've written about this before, but it seems like there are more Canada geese than ever on our farm.  There is a golf course just down the road at the end of our valley, and we have big open fields, inviting ponds, and a very attractive place for Canada geese, it seems.  Sometimes there are so many of them it is a bit like an old Hitchcock movie.
    Prior to the 1960’s Canada geese sightings were rare treats but now they are commonly seen year round, and are more numerous each year. In the period from 1965 to 1995, the Canada geese in the Christmas bird count in the Fraser Valley increased 50 fold. Where no more than 200 Canada geese were seen in Victoria in the 1970’s, now over 5,000 are counted each winter. I can easily count over 200 Canada geese on our farm alone in the winter. The resident non-migratory geese made up 18 per cent of the North American total in 1970; now they account for 67 per cent. So what has happened?
      Since the early ‘70’s Canada geese numbers have been increasing significantly due to a perfect storm of events. A successful conservation program was launched across North America in the 1960’s by various wildlife agencies to restore numbers of geese reduced through years of hunting and habitat loss. The program was also intended to boost Canada geese numbers for recreational hunting purposes. In Canada there are 11 subspecies of Canada goose and eight of these live in B. C., but the two subspecies that were introduced through this program were resident, or non-migratory, geese not common to this area. The parallel increase in growth of urban and suburban communities with manicured lawns, golf courses and airports and lovely ponds made for the perfect Canada goose habitat. When we add restrictive hunting and firearm regulations and a lack of predators we have indeed created the perfect storm of events.
       It shouldn’t be a surprise that farmers view Canada geese as pests. Forage producers watch as hay and grain fields are demolished in a feeding frenzy by these foragers, which consume up to 4 lbs. of grass each day, depositing 2-3 lbs. of fecal material. A few years ago we spring-planted two fields with oats and millet, and watched as hundreds of Canada geese ate the crop while it was trying to grow. The geese kept the area stripped clean and the only crop we ended up with were thistles. After a lot of work dealing with thistles and re-working the fields with a fall-plant of rye and grass I hope our goose problem will not repeat itself. It takes daily visits to chase the geese off, though. Some farmers use dogs, balloons, decoys, barriers, fences, and propane cannons to keep them from eating crops.
      Not just grass and grains can be affected. Crops like leafy salad greens, cabbages, potatoes, carrots, corn and blueberries are also eaten by Canada geese. It is estimated that the annual damage to all farms in the Saanich Peninsula and Metchosin area is $300,000 per year.
      The ground next to the ponds is compressed and especially lacking in vegetation. This is only compounded by the fact that the federal government has been encouraging farmers over the past few years to dig more ponds to enhance our water storage.
      Now, some might suggest that golf course managers might think a bit about working with these lawn mowers with wings, since they produce fertilizer and keep the grounds manicured. But they are in fact viewed as an unappealing nuisance since the fertilizer tends to be slippery underfoot and muck up the golf balls. Recently our local golf course has placed two lights that flash all night to keep the geese from resting overnight on the course. I noticed that the geese still are on the golf course during the day, but they did seem to vacate the area near the lights in the evening. The bad news for us is that I think this might just move them down the valley to our farm. Perhaps we should try some strobe lights and other deterrents as well, because the geese are very noisy at night on our farm.
      There are also public health concerns since Canada geese can contribute to Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Campylobacter outbreaks. As I walk our farm each day checking the new lambs, I can’t help but notice the incredible amount of goose droppings and the effect on our grass growth.
So what can we do? Increasing populations of Canada geese have prompted several communities to control resident flocks. The CRD is currently developing a regional Canada Goose Management Plan because of the effects on our recreational areas, airports and farms. The federal Wildlife Service has produced a handbook for Canada goose management and population control. The handbook has several good suggestions that can be used to discourage Canada Geese through the understanding of their biology. Some methods do not require permits. In the 1970s, the Wildlife Service began to issue permits to property owners whose crops were being ravaged by foraging Canada geese. Some resourceful individuals have killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, by gathering and eating Canada goose eggs. Southern BC allows for more than one hunting season for Canada geese. With resident Canada geese populations growing at a rate of 12% or more per year there will most likely be a peak and leveling off of goose numbers at some point, but not before they go from nuisance to serious problem.