Dairy cows in the ultra-modern milking parlour at Nathan Creek Farms in Glen Valley.

Farm tour focus is on business

In decades past, farmers were able to make a living by taking a plot of land, planting a crop, helping it grow, then reaping and selling what they had sown.

These days, farming incorporates high technology, niche marketing, creative promotion, the formation of partnerships, and the need to find new and better ways to work the land and make a profit.

“Agriculture today is not what it was 30 years ago,” said Dave Melnychuk of the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation (LSAF).

Farming has evolved into an advanced industry and a vital business that generates $257 million in revenue per year in the Township of Langley, contributing the equivalent of more than 1,790 full-time jobs.

On May 6, Melnychuk and other members of the LSAF were joined by elected officials, municipal staff, agricultural research and development officials, and representatives from the provincial government and the media for the Township of Langley’s 2011 Farm Tour: The Business of Sustainable Agriculture.

Presented by the Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC), the Farm Tour is regularly held to educate participants and the public about issues facing farmers, and spotlight those finding innovative ways to succeed in the face of the changing agricultural landscape.

Today, fewer people are farming for a living, urban pressures threaten viable farm land, and government budgets contain less and less for farmers – yet studies show the majority of people are interested in agricultural sustainability and want to support it. They just need to be educated and made aware of the issues, Melnychuk said, which is why the LSAF was created, and why the AAC offers its Tours.

This year, guests visited All Seasons Mushrooms, a state-of-the-art facility that grows, packages, and directly distributes organic mushrooms to local stores; Domaine de Chaberton, the Fraser Valley’s first winery, which has won many awards and produces more than 40,000 cases of wine a year; and Nathan Creek Dairy Farms, which features a massive dairy herd and recently underwent high-tech upgrades to its barns and milking parlour.

As well, they heard from Janine de la Salle, Director of Food and Agriculture System Planning at HB Lanarc Consultants, which is working on the Township’s Agricultural Viability Strategy.

“There’s an incredible resource here,” she said. “You have the land and you have the people.”

The problem is that land is expensive and most farmers are growing older and retiring – and their descendents and new farmers are not rushing to fill their places.

For agriculture to be sustainable, farmers must be able to make a profit, and the Township needs to “create a buzz” that will connect current gourmet trends to the fresh foods produced here, be innovative with niche farming and specialty crops, and encourage more direct marking, de la Salle said.

“The most important thing is to ask the right questions: you will find allies in the strangest places,” she concluded. “Be encouraged that it is possible, but realistic that there isn’t an easy answer.”

“It’s a big task,” agreed Melnychuk, “These are challenging issues that we face, including the cost of farmland and the need to attract young people.”

Hope for the future may be found in one of the guests on the tour. Martin Kline, a 16-year-old Grade 12 student at Langley Education Centre is pursuing a diploma in livestock production and serves on the LSAF. Unlike most people his age, he plans to become a farmer for a living when he finishes school.

“I like that kind of work,” said Kline, who enjoys machinery and plans to study animal science. “It is a good industry and so many people are leaving.”

“It’s so refreshing to have someone this young on our committee,” said the LSAF’s Gary Jones, a horticulture instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and founding president of the Langley Farmers’ Market Society.