Weather woes in the Fraser

April 30, 2009
Written by David Schmidt
It was bad on top of bad,” is how one official described storm effects in parts of British Columbia this past winter.

A prolonged cold snap followed by two major snowfalls, which in turn were followed by two days of heavy rain and a rapid snowmelt, wreaked havoc on the floriculture and nurSery greenhouse sector in B.C.’s Fraser Valley in late December and early January.

While the flooding in Abbotsford and Chilliwack grabbed most of the national media attention, it was the snow that caused more damage for greenhouses.

“About six flower greenhouses were destroyed by snow,” reports United Flower Growers chief executive officer Bob Pringle. Most were smaller poly hoop houses but one was a 74,000-square-foot metal and glass house valued at about $125,000.

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Plant material in one of the collapsed greenhouses.
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Aldergrove Nursery was among those cleaning up after the storms
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These greenhouses at Aldergrove Nursery reflect some of the damage experienced by a number of B.C. growers following unusually harsh winter conditions this year.
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Aldergrove Nursery was among those cleaning up after the storms.
“IT WAS BAD ON TOP OF BAD” FOR NURSERY GROWERS
In the nursery sector, “it was bad on top of bad,” said B.C. Landscape and Nursery Association grower liaison Hedy Dyck. Nursery growers reported losses of at least two dozen houses, worth a total of about $2 million.

Adding to the damage is the fact that once the houses collapsed, they acted as pool liners to trap the snow and rainwater, thereby crushing the plants underneath.

“Our initial estimate is about $1 million in plant losses,” Dyck said, “but I expect that to increase substantially.”

Greenhouse vegetable growers reported no damage to their structures, although several growers experienced delays as fuel trucks and propagation trucks were unable to deliver.

“Some growers had a delay of up to a week in getting their propagation materials. That could be critical but we won’t really know until the harvest begins,” said B.C. Greenhouse Growers Association executive director Mary-Margaret Gaye.

PARTS OF CHILLIWACK WERE DECLARED A DISASTER AREA
The province declared a local disaster area in parts of Chilliwack and is offering Disaster Financial Assistance to affected properties but damage from snow and wind are considered insurable losses and therefore do not qualify for assistance. However, many growers either do not have sufficient, if any, snowload insurance as it is difficult to obtain.

Plant losses are also not covered because the plants are considered landscape plants, but Dyck disagrees. “They may be landscape plants when they get to the homeowner, but for us they’re business stock.”

She also notes disaster assistance is only available to farmers who derive most of their income from the farm. “Small farmers who have off-farm income are discriminated against because they can’t access the provincial emergency program.”

MAJORITY OF B.C. FARMERS REQUIRE A SECOND INCOME
She points out recent census data shows about 60 per cent of B.C. farmers have to have another income to support the farm.

“The current disaster relief program is heavily skewed against small farmers who make up about 60 per cent of the farms in B.C.,” she says. “The government wants to encourage people to start farming, but the only way they can is to start small and then when something happens, the government isn’t there to help them.”

Losses not eligible for DFA could still be covered under the Agri-Stability (CAIS) program. Growers have until the end of April to apply for coverage for 2009 and have been strongly encouraged to do so. However, that will not be a quick fix, as any compensation they receive under Agri-Stability will not arrive for at least another year.

David Schmidt is a freelance writer and photographer in British Columbia.

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