British Columbia

Abbotsford farmers call for more provincial disaster relief funding as flood waters recede

B.C. farmers in some of the areas hardest hit by catastrophic flooding worry provincial disaster relief funding won't cover their bills as they seek to rebuild.

Blueberry, vegetable farmers say the $300,000 they are able to apply for won't cover losses

Satinder Sekhon runs Khukhrana Blueberry Farm in Abbotsford B.C.. He says disaster relief funds from the province aren't enough to cover the damage sustained from catastrophic flooding in November 2021. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

B.C. farmers in some of the areas hardest hit by catastrophic flooding worry provincial disaster relief funding won't cover their bills as they seek to rebuild.

Satinder Sekhon who runs Khukhrana Blueberry Farm in Abbotsford's Sumas Prairie east of Vancouver said the operation was one of hundreds of farms covered by water nearly three weeks ago after record-setting rainfall.

"Everybody just has the same pain," he said. "Every single family member is hurt. We don't have a house, we don't have clothes, everything is gone in a click of a second."

Sekhon was one of several farmers who gathered at a Gurdwara in the city on Saturday to advocate for more help from the province as political leaders from the Fraser Valley listened and promised assistance.

Water spills over a submerged road into a blueberry field in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford on Nov. 30. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

People affected by the flooding can apply to the province for disaster financial assistance, which could provide up to $300,000 in compensation for losses not covered by insurance.

British Columbians who were ordered to evacuate their homes from Nov. 14 to 16 due to flooding will receive $2,000 from the Red Cross, as long as they register with the agency.

Farmers in Abbotsford B.C. gathered on Saturday to discuss how to recover from catastrophic flooding which damaged hundreds of farms. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

The City of Abbotsford says there are more than 1,200 farms in the municipality. Farmers like Sekhon are worried the provincial disaster relief funds won't go far enough to help those that were damaged.

"We [are] out from our homes, we don't have any equipment, we don't have cars, we are just surviving," he said.  "We need to support from our government."

Bruce Banman, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Abbotsford South said he wants the province to provide more support than what is currently available

"It might be enough to help them replace some things, but it's not nearly enough," he said.

A grey-haired white man with glasses is shown wearing a pink head scarf.
Abbotsford South MLA Bruce Banman met with farmers at a Gurdwara in Abbotsford on Saturday. He's calling on more financial support from the province for flooding-affected farmers in his riding. (Martin Diotte/CBC News)

Late last month the B.C. Agriculture Council estimated that damage in places like Abbotsford's Sumas Prairie could add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.

It said that while some farms could potentially find a way to operate again within a month or so, others will likely take between six months to a year to fully recover. 

The province has also said it could take weeks to fully assess the damage, such as soil contamination.

The NDP MLA for Surrey-Fleetwood, Jagrup Brar, said more plans are underway from the province to further help farmers who have lost everything, but did not provide a timeline.

"We are there to assist them, to bring them back to production but in terms of a specific program...? I have no idea how much time it will take for the minister to put out the package, but we are working on that."

Farmers like Sekhon are worried that solutions won't come soon enough to save next year's growing season, especially as many of his blueberry plants are still under water.

"We don't know what the damage is for our plants," he said. "That's the main concern. Everybody, blueberry, vegetable farms, they're worried about what's going to happen next year."

With files from Jessica Cheung