Provincial leaders are urging British Columbians not to hoard food and groceries as disruptions to BC’s farm industry and supply chains from historic rain and flooding fuels angst amid consumers.
Scenes of empty grocery store shelves in Hope, Chilliwack and the Okanagan prompted BC Premier John Horgan to issue calls to residents to refrain from panic-buying.
“Please, do not hoard items. What you need, your neighbors need as well,” he said at a news briefing Wednesday. “We are confident we can restore our supply chains in a quick and orderly manner provided we all act as we have been acting over the past two years.”
The plea comes after record-breaking rainfall caused major flooding and several mudslides. In Abbotsford — one of the most productive agricultural areas in BC — farmers in the city’s flooded Sumas Prairie area have lost thousands of livestock and seen entire properties submerged.
They are bracing for significant losses, but damage to major roads across BC means even bigger challenges for the province’s food producers in the days ahead.
Pressure on dairy, chicken, and eggs
The BC Dairy Association says the Sumas Prairie area has about 200 dairy farms, 59 of which are under evacuation order. There are about 470 dairy farms in BC
Board chair Holger Schwichtenberg says it’s difficult to quantify the total damage to farms in the area but points to the larger ripple effect of road closures.
“Right now a large proportion of the milk in BC cannot be picked up,” said Schwichtenberg, who says between 70 to 80 per cent of milk produced each day is going to waste. “Provincewide, BC produces about 2.2 million liters a day. So it’s a lot.”
As for eggs, there are typically about 290,000 laying hens in areas that are currently under evacuation order — about 10 per cent of the provincial total.
Amanda Brittain, spokesperson with the BC Egg Marketing Board, says the majority of egg production in the province is carrying on as usual, but there are still questions as to how farmers will be able to get stock into grocery stores.
“Eggs are being stored in big walk-in coolers, which happens every day,” she said. “The only difference is trucks are unable to get to the farms to pick up the eggs.”
Lisa Bishop-Spencer, the communications director with Chicken Farmers of Canada, said of the 310 chicken farms in BC, 61 farms are being evacuated, 22 of which are broiler farms, where chickens are raised for their meat.
“Everyone’s still trying to make sure that themselves and their families are safe and taking as best care of their birds as possible, but we don’t have any specific information on losses yet,” she said.
BC is the third-largest chicken-producing province in the country, said Bishop-Spencer, but their organization is working to ensure there are no supply issues once help has been given to all farmers and animals.
“We’re working with federal and provincial partners just to deploy support and assistance wherever,” she said.
On Wednesday, BC’s agriculture minister, Lana Popham, said she expects other provinces will help pick up any slack when it comes to supplying chicken, dairy and eggs.
“We won’t run out of food, so I encourage people not to be as enthusiastic when they’re shopping.”
Supply chain management
As BC declared a provincial state of emergency on Wednesday, the premier said it had also formally requested federal resources to help manage supply chains and resupply chains.
Experts say the longer that infrastructure is disrupted, the more likely it becomes for other provinces to start seeing shortages.
“When we get major events like this, it impacts the entire system,” said Martin Gooch, chief executive of consulting firm Value Chain Management International.
“In the shorter-term, it’s going to be mainly those people in BC, Alberta and possibly a little bit [farther] east that are most affected. But ultimately, it could affect most of the country.”
All types of food products, from frozen fish to fresh produce to shelf-stable goods, are imported into Canada through the Port of Vancouver and then shipped across the rest of the country. Gooch said consumers could see shortages of specific items on grocery store shelves and “longer term, it’s going to affect food prices.”
The BC Trucking Association says truck drivers should be able to circumvent affected routes, but the added cost will be passed down to consumers.