British Columbia

Farmer devastated over loss of crop says dream of making Abbotsford the 'saffron capital' of B.C. persists

Avtar Dhillon is among farmers in the Sumas Prairie devastated by the floods. But his dream of making Abbotsford B.C.'s saffron capital persists, and he says he hopes the city will make infrastructure changes to protect farmers like him from future floods. 

Avtar Dhillon said he was the first in B.C. to farm the world's most expensive spice

Avtar Dhillon at his saffron patch on his farm in early November, before the floods devastated his crop. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

For Avtar Dhillon, living in the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford meant cultivating his dream to farm the world's most expensive spice in British Columbia. 

Now his crop of about 250,000 saffron bulbs lies still under several feet of muddied water.

The farmer, who recently said he was B.C.'s first to farm saffron on a large commercial scale, says his farm has suffered catastrophic damage due to flooding in the Fraser Valley. 

"I'm very upset about [the] saffron ... I take six years to get to this point ... and then Monday just lost everything."

For Dhillon, who is also a blueberry farmer, it took several years of experimenting with different methods of growing saffron before finding one that worked. 

This year showed promise as purple flowers, each with three red saffron threads, successfully bloomed in October. 

He says the loss of the crocus sativus bulbs has cost him over $300,000. They were grown on his 25-acre Ramsar Berry Farm, where his blueberry fields have also been affected.

Avtar Dhillon's farm has been flooded, destroying his crop of nearly 250,000 saffron bulbs. (Avtar Dhillon)

The ancient spice has a distinctive taste and colour, and is commonly used for seasoning and as a colouring agent for food and textiles. 

Dhillon's family worked to handpick and sell the saffron to local businesses for $50 per gram. It was a family affair with everyone pitching in, he previously told CBC News. 

He was recently able to visit his home by boat. Several feet of water has seeped into his house.

"We all feel very sad ... this week I can't sleep all night for the past three, four days, but now every day we are thinking we can't do anything."

Dhillon had specially purchased the saffron bulbs from India-administered Kashmir, and was one of only a handful of people to plant them in Canada.

The loss of saffron bulbs has cost Avtar Dhillon over $300,000. It took six years of experimenting for the saffron to grow successfully on his farm in Abbotsford. (Gian Paolo Mendoza/CBC)

'It's devastating': Agriculture Minister

On Thursday, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham reflected on farmers' losses — including Dhillon's — in the Fraser Valley.

"Unfortunately, that's all under water now. And our hearts are with them. It's devastating, " she said.

The minister also mentioned how cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and carrots have also been significantly affected.

"About 100% of all bulb growers in the Sumas flats have been impacted," she said.

About 57 blueberry producers like Dhillon have been impacted in the Fraser Valley. Their crops will need to be ripped out and replanted, said Popham.

Alongside his saffron crop, Dhillon's 25-acre blueberry farm also suffered extensive damage. (Avtar Dhillon)

Dhillon's dream persists

Dhillon, who is still evacuated from his home, says he plans to sell the farm next year and that his family is scared to return and live in the Sumas area.

But his dream of making Abbotsford B.C. 's saffron capital persists.

Dhillon says he hopes the city of Abbotsford will make the right changes to infrastructure and dikes so farmers like him are safe from future floods. 

He also hopes to find a new plot of land to farm the spice in the future — even if the recovery could take years. The floods have destroyed all his bulbs, and he will need to import fresh bulbs from Kashmir again. 

Dhillon says he is seeking support and guidance from the Ministry of Agriculture regarding his next steps.

"This is my dream. I don't want it to go away."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Baneet Braich

CBC Journalist

Baneet Braich is a journalist with CBC News. Connect with her at baneet.braich@cbc.ca or on Twitter at @Baneet_Braich

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now