Wildfires, sweltering heat and extensive flooding in British Columbia last yea r have underscored the importance of strengthening the agricultural sector’s resilience to the effects of climate change and extreme weather, experts say.
He said funding is needed to match the scale of the challenge.
“We have to get going now or else we’re just going to be in a reactionary mode constantly, and reactionary mode is going to be so costly, much more costly than if we were being proactive and planning out a viable future,” he said.
The second half of 2021 in B.C. offers a snapshot of potential costs.
Severe drought and destructive wildfires last summer prompted the B.C. and federal governments to allocate $20 million to help farmers and ranchers recover, while a summer heat dome scorched berry crops in the same prime agricultural area in the Fraser Valley that was devastated by floodwaters in November.
Dozens of blueberry and raspberry producers were affected, about 4,000 tonnes of stored and unharvested field vegetables were lost and an estimated 628,000 chickens, 420 cattle and 12,000 hogs died, provincial officials said at the time.
The province has yet to confront the challenge of ensuring there’s enough water for food production over the longer or even the nearer term, she said in an interview.
The agricultural sector is one group of water users among many as communities across B.C. grow, she said, and droughts are worsening with climate change.
It’s going to get drier, so it’s logical to consider how to store excess water from spring freshets or heavy precipitation in the fall and winter, MacNair said.
B.C. is home to a high proportion of small, family-owned farms that produce a wide range of products, she noted.
Such diversity offers opportunities, she said, since smaller farms may be more nimble in experimenting with new methods or technologies to support resiliency, but they may also have limited financial capacity, time and other resources required to implement costly solutions.
“We need to have mountain slopes that are treed, with deep soils, to hold water so it trickles out all season long.”
Soil is key to managing water, said Bennett, who works with his local municipality and wildfire prevention groups to divert wood waste that’s usually burned or taken to the dump into soil to boost its organic content, a process called hugelkultur.
Logs break down much slower than chipped wood, keeping carbon stored for longer and acting as a sponge to increase the soil’s capacity to store water, he said.
Much of Bennett’s work with the Kootenay & Boundary Farm Advisors involves helping farmers improve the quality and capacity of their soils to increase yields and strengthen resilience as the climate changes, he said.