A sprinkler irrigation system in the Fraser Valley. B.C. producers can calculate their peak water demand using tools supplied by Farmwest, explained Naka. /FARMWEST

By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

McBride agricultural producers gathered at Elks Hall on March 8th to learn about how they could improve their irrigation practices. In an effort to support producers as they cope with the impacts of climate change, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food has been delivering these water management workshops throughout the province.

Mark Raymond, Executive Director of the Extension and Support Services Branch at the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, said the water management workshop is one of a number of workshops the Province has held over the past 15 years. These workshops are part of the BC Climate Change Adaptation Program, which was introduced to help agricultural producers address the impacts of climate change on their farms.

“Any workshop or education that we put on is to support producers in understanding some of the programs and services that we offer as a Ministry,” Raymond said. “So talking about some of our funding programs that producers can access for things like irrigation, equipment or water storage, infrastructure support, as well as some of our other financial programs we have in place through our business risk management program.”

Raymond told The Goat that the Province earmarked $83M for the Agriculture Water Infrastructure Program in its 2024 budget. This program is administered by the Investment Agriculture Foundation of B.C., which provides producers with funding to improve irrigation infrastructure on their farms.

While every water management workshop broadly shares the goal of teaching better irrigation practices, workshop instructor and irrigation designer Bruce Naka said he tailors each workshop to the needs of producers in the region. He also considers how climate change impacts water use, and incorporates historical data about water availability into his presentations.

“Our seasons are changing, and the unfortunate part about it is we don’t always have the water that we need,” he told The Goat. “But we have to look at it holistically, because the water isn’t only needed by farms. We have to consider the environment as well.”

For his presentation in McBride, Naka focused on irrigation for forage crops, as he knew that would be most relevant to producers in the area. He discussed how to use the BC Agriculture Water Calculator to estimate the volume of water needed for irrigation, and how to assess the quality of water available on one’s property. All this is necessary to apply for a water licence in line with the Water Sustainability Act, a process which Naka described in detail.

Producer Aaron Ford said that he found the presentation helpful. He said that his forage crop is currently not irrigated, and since irrigation is relatively uncommon among producers in McBride, the workshop was a good opportunity to get more information on the practice.

“I want to support the initiatives of the Farmers’ Institute, so I was interested in what they were putting on,” he said. “I do irrigate [berries], so I have thought about doing a forage irrigation, and this was an interesting way to get some numbers and ideas.”

While the Province does offer some funding for producers to improve their irrigation practices, Ford does not believe the government will be able to cover the cost of installing an entire system for everyone who wants one. Still, he appreciates that the Province can cover at least some of the expenses, he said Naka’s previous presentations are available on bcclimatechangeadaptation.ca. Additionally, information on applying for irrigation improvement funds can be found at iafbc.ca.