British Columbia

One year after flooding disaster, recovery continues for Fraser Valley farmers

Dairy and poultry production, along with annual seed crop planting in the hard-hit Sumas Prairie area have returned to normal, says provincial agriculture minister.

Many blueberry farmers still in limbo, says B.C. agriculture minister

A barn on a farm is pictured surrounded by floodwater in the Sumas Prairie flood zone in Abbotsford, B.C. on Nov. 29, 2021. Provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has called the flood the largest agricultural disaster ever in B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Farmer Richard Bosma points to an armpit-level felt pen mark on the wall of his milking barn to show how high the water rose during the catastrophic flooding on his Fraser Valley dairy farm almost a year ago.

"So there were about 54 inches of water here at its peak," he said. 

In another barn, Bosma introduces assembled media and politicians to Miracle, a black-and-white, hay-munching calf that earned its name by arriving in the world immediately after its mother was rescued from the rising water.

"Her mother was ready to calve and stood in water all night long," said Bosma. "We could only get in here with tractors pulling trailers. Her mother was taken to another farm and she lay down and calved." 

Bosma is one of hundreds of farmers still trying to get back on their feet after the disaster a year ago that saw days of intense rainfall hit a large section of Southwest British Columbia, submerging a giant swath of farmland in the Sumas Prairie area of Abbotsford and Chilliwack.

In marking the disaster's one-year anniversary, provincial Agriculture Minister Lana Popham called the flood the largest agricultural disaster ever in B.C.

"It has been a long and hard emotional year for so many farmers here," she said. 

Miracle the calf, left, was born right after her mother was rescued from flood water that rose to the armpit-high mark, right, on Richard Bosma's Sumas Prairie farm one year ago. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Popham said the province is still working to meet the needs of individual farms and farmers, but dairy and poultry production and annual seed crop planting in the area have returned to normal.

Many blueberry producers, she said, remain in limbo however, with an estimated 10 per cent of B.C.'s total blueberry production impacted by the flooding.

"Some [blueberry] farms were able to recover this year depending on the level of flooding," she said. 

"But others are still making decisions about whether they should rip their plants out due to loss of productivity, or to carry on and try and get them back to productivity."

Bosma says while he is satisfied with the aid his farm has received, not all farmers feel the same. 

About 630,000 chickens, 420 cattle and 12,000 hogs died in the flooding, which also washed out highways, dikes and triggered landslides that killed five people. 

At the peak, more than 1,100 farms were under evacuation order or alert and 150 square kilometres of farmland  swamped, with an estimated $285-million cost to the B.C. agricultural sector.

Popham said with extreme weather events related to climate change expected to continue, government is bringing in new programs, including one to support farmers in building flood-resistant feed storage. 

With files from Jon Hernandez