Agricultural workshop helps map the future of local farming

Delta's farming community turned out to offer input on Delta's agricultural plans at a workshop Wednesday (Feb. 2) night at Ladner United Church.

Delta's farming community turned out to offer input on Delta's agricultural plans at a workshop Wednesday (Feb. 2) night at Ladner United Church.

What will Delta’s farming community look like and how will it operate 20 years from now?

Representatives from the local industry gathered Wednesday night (Feb. 2) at Ladner United Church to discuss a possible roadmap to the future at a Delta Agricultural Plan workshop.

Those attending were divided into groups to discuss and come up with suggestions on a wide range of topics, including how to garner public support for agriculture, enhance agricultural resources, improve the economic sustainability of local farming, and create opportunities for efficiency.

Facilitating the workshop was Darrell Zbeetnoff of White Rock-based Zbeetnoff Agro-Environmental Consulting. He told the gathering Delta’s farming operations face a myriad of challenges from concerns over succession of control of farms to a younger generation and competition from global markets for goods.

“And local farmers have to compete with Canadian regulations and Canadian costs which means margins are tight,” Zbeetnoff said, adding the only way homegrown operations can effectively take on the challenge is to become more efficient.

Part of that comes from adopting new technology and “where possible having government support them where market forces are causing the price for land and inputs (operational costs) to exceed what they earn in agriculture,” Zbeetnoff added.

One of the major hurdles anticipated in the future is the cost of purchasing farmland for new operators entering the industry.

“The land is so expensive and there’s more and more demand for land to be used for rural residential in other municipalities, so there’s big pressure there,” Zbeetnoff said. “Farming has to reinvent itself. If we have greenhouses now, it can’t be greenhouses forever, or potatoes forever. We will have to look for new crops.”

Zbeetnoff added the lack of processing is also hurting the industry.

“Without that we are losing a lot of capability to generate extra revenues.”

Overall, what is needed is a “repatriation” of consuming locally grown food, Zbeetnoff said.

“Right now, over one half of the food we eat in B.C. comes from elsewhere,” he said. “Few people know that. And if we want to support our farmers we have to eat our farmers’ food, not food form other farmers.”

The workshop was the second of its kind and recommendations from the most recent one will be forwarded to the municipality’s Agricultural Advisory Committee this spring.

Expectations are a plan will be formulated and presented to Delta Council this summer.

During the breakout groups some suggestions touched on attracting farm processing companies to Delta using local government incentives, reducing government involvement to allow a better flow of sales, and even exploring ways of establishing “portable” processing operations that could make the rounds of local farms to add value to the crops instead of shipping out produce and fruit right after being harvested.

Mayor Lois Jackson, who attended the workshop, said it is imperative to have input from the local farming community to help formulate a plan for the future of agriculture in Delta.

“Without that, my fear is that we will see farming gradually disappear,” Jackson said. “We also have to have equality in job opportunities. They (farmers) have to be able to make a living and this is one of the main reasons we are here tonight, to see what the problem is with young people coming into farming, for instance.”

Jackson said the inclusion from the agricultural community is vital to the success of long-term farming in Delta.

“We’re really happy to help orchestrate this and hear from the farmers themselves.”

Surrey North Delta Leader