Blueberry farmers ask B.C. government to provide direct financial assistance for flood ravaged fields
2 months after widespread flooding, farmers say province has not reached out with plans for financial aid
Blueberry farmers in the flood-ravaged Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford, B.C., are calling on the province to provide financial aid as they face a decade-long rebuilding effort.
Hundreds of farmers in the low-lying region east of the city faced widespread flooding in late November, with acres of crops submerged in water for weeks and thousands of animals and livestock perishing in the floods.
The B.C. Blueberry Council said that 2,500 acres of the fruit crop were affected by the floods. A council board member also said the provincial government has not responded to a report detailing the extensive damage that farmers have faced.
At a meeting with opposition MLAs on Monday, farmers said the province has not yet reached out with information on financial aid to recover from the disaster.
"We're going to have to start from scratch again," said farmer Harry Sidhu, who had 87 acres of his family's farms under water for nearly 28 days.
"They [were] highly productive fields. And the journey to get back to that is 10 years after planting, to get back to those production levels."
B.C. is one of the largest suppliers of highbush blueberries — the variety commonly found in grocery stores— in the world and, according to the B.C. Blueberry Council, produces an average of about 73 million kilograms of blueberries each year.
That production has seen a dip in the past two years, according to the council, with 2021 seeing a downturn in production of approximately 22 million kilograms due to the floods, the record-breaking heat wave in June, and other challenges.
Opposition B.C. Liberal MLAs meeting the farmers on Monday urged the province to provide direct financial assistance.
"This is a catastrophe. And people are seeing their livelihoods impacted, their futures thrown into complete uncertainty," said Mike de Jong, the MLA for Abbotsford-West.
"They need help and they need it now. They don't need it six months from now. They don't need it two years from now. They need help now."
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Agriculture said farm producers can "expect to receive support" soon if they meet various criteria, but did not provide a timeline for when the support would go out.
"We are working very hard with the federal government to finalize the best way to support farmers under these difficult circumstances," the spokesperson said. "We will have an announcement on financial supports soon."
Some of the reasons that farmers can apply for support include:
- The loss of perennial plants not raised for resale.
- Restoration of agricultural land to a condition fit for agricultural use.
- Clean up of barns, water, and waste systems among other production infrastructure.
- The rebuilding of protective infrastructure like drainage systems.
There was no indication how much money the province would provide under these schemes. The province also pointed to federal insurance schemes that farmers could apply for when asked about financial assistance provided so far.
"We need [financial aid] designed that pertains to this disaster," Sidhu said.
"There should not be the old framework that's relied on [to provide aid] because that framework was designed for regular course of business or regular events."
With files from Michelle Ghoussoub and Bridgette Watson