One of the privileges I have is sitting on the Board of Directors of the Farm Industry Review Board of B.C. (FIRB).
We are a panel of people experienced in various aspects of agriculture relevant to our tasks mandated by various B.C. laws.
Our functions involve the supervisory oversight and hearing of appeals from the decisions of the marketing boards of the milk, egg, chicken, turkey, pork, vegetable and cranberry sectors.
Additionally, we hear appeals from animal seizure decisions of the SPCA, and also hear appeals from aggrieved persons who challenge the practices of neighbouring farmers. They may think a farm is causing a nuisance (smell, noise, pests).
In doing our job, we usually set up panels of a few or single members which conduct legal hearings into the matters under dispute. In effect, we make the administrative law in the above-mentioned areas of agriculture.
Our decisions can be appealed to a judge in the court system, but it is usual for the judge to defer to our decisions, although they oversee us in respect of fair process in the hearing process.
We must ensure that we use best practices in hearing persons that are appealing even if they do not have legal representation when they appear to argue their case. We rely on expert witnesses in the agriculture field to inform our decision-making.
This said we try to keep up on developments in agriculture so that our decisions reflect changing best practices. We are charged with ensuring fair marketing in the areas of agriculture under our purview.
To this end, we yearly visit the state-of-the-art farm and related operations to better understand challenges to the sector.
Last week we visited several operations for our continuing education.
A visit to a state-of-the-art greenhouse operation in Boundary Bay informed us about greenhouse challenges in a time of rising energy costs. We saw how excessive sunlight can be shaded from plants by helicopters spraying the acres and acres of greenhouses with shade creating substance which can also be washed off after the jot summer by another spray, also applied by helicopter.
We also saw the latest in growing media for plants started for replanting into other locations, i.e., shredded coconut shell making a water holding medium for the pots.
This industry is moving towards capturing carbon dioxide and recycling it to the plants, as well as various other greenhouse gases (GHGs) like nitrous oxide and methane, making them available to plants as they can.
We also learned that special shade cloth suspended above the plants as a ceiling can keep much of the heat up at the peak to be used to heat huge tanks of water captured from rain run off which can then be recycled as warmed water to the plants during cooler parts of the day and seasons.
At the UBC dairy research station at Agassiz in the Lower Mainland, we saw the site of the animal care research into the handling of dairy calves—they are separated from their mothers, but recent research has found that they do better when left in groups for company. It has been the practice that calves were kept in individual huts to ensure they get the nutrition they need.
A final stop in our tour took us to a recently opened food hub in Abbotsford where food processors can rent food preparation and storage equipment for proving their product without the large investment upfront before the product is proven viable. Such a hub exists in Quesnel.
These hubs are supposed to help get local food into the public institutions such as schools, hospitals, prisons, etc.
All this is to aid in the furthering of the markets for B.C. products. The more food we produce locally, the theory goes, the more secure we will be in our food supply. The food system is a big system that needs to be governed, maintained, and supported.