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B.C. farm recovery deserves to be the top agricultural story

Some will call this week’s $228-million commitment to B.C. farms to help with flood recovery a smokescreen. They’ll say the federal government timed it to turn headlines away from the truck convoy that’s besieged Ottawa for longer than expected.

But I don’t think so. I think it’s a great example of Canadians coming together to help other Canadians. 

The commitment, announced Monday in Victoria, is called the Canada-B.C. Flood Recovery Program for Food Security. Officials say it’s designed to help farms return to production and support the province’s food security and agricultural communities in the years ahead.

More than 1,100 farms, 15,000 hectares and 2.5-million livestock in BC, from the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford to Merritt and Princeton, were impacted by the November floods. You’ll remember the heart-wrenching photos and videos of people on jet skis and motorboats trying to lead their cattle to high ground. Less dramatic but similarly devastating was the impact on poultry and vegetable farmers in the region.

Lana Popham, B.C.’s Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, called the November flooding “the most impactful disaster ever in the province,” based on estimated damage from the Insurance Bureau of Canada at a whopping $450 million.

Farmers typically have insurance of some kind, but not for everything. And insurance companies shun natural disasters. That’s where a program called AgriRecovery comes in; it’s a federal-provincial-territorial disaster relief framework to help producers with the extraordinary costs associated with recovering from natural disasters. It provides support with extraordinary recovery costs not covered by existing programs or private insurance.

Popham and her Ottawa counterpart, federal agriculture and agri-food minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, say the BC program “that delivers the greatest amount of support of its kind in BC’s history.”

In that light, the program will kick in to help farmers who have incurred extraordinary expenses from uninsurable damages. It will cover the clean-up, repair and restoration of land, barns and animal shelter, water and waste systems, and return flood-impacted land and buildings to a safe environment for agricultural production.

It will also cover repairs to uninsurable essential farm infrastructure and the “reasonable” repair of on-farm structures such as livestock containment fences, and temporary production facility rental.

The governments of Canada and British Columbia have also established a committee of federal and provincial ministers who are working together and with Indigenous leadership. Their mandate is to guide immediate and ongoing support to British Columbia families, businesses, and communities affected by the extreme weather events.

That’s a key. The BC flooding is being called an “atmospheric river” event. Atmospheric rivers are described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US as “relatively long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport most of the water vapour outside of the tropics.”

These vapour columns move with the weather, carrying an amount of water vapour roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

They make landfall as rain or snow. And when they hit, it’s like the heavens above released a river from the sky.

In Canada, we’re not used to a river from the sky falling on our heads. With the help of this new program, maybe next time we’ll be better prepared for yet another example of how the climate is changing.

A little more local for your inbox.

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