Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George

CAI works with partners in Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George to deliver projects that equip producers to adapt to climate change.

Many projects flow from the 2019 Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George Adaptation Strategies plan that outlines:

  • 4 climate issues of top concern to producers
  • 12 strategies for responding to the issues

CAI developed the regional adaptation plan over 12 months.

Map of the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.
Map of the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.

Climate projections & top issues

This section highlights a subset of climate projections important to agriculture in Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George. The projections are for the 2050s and also help illustrate climate change trends.

Temperature

  • 2.2°C to 4.3°C increase in annual average temperatures
  • 37 to 70 more frost free days annually

Precipitation

  • 13% increase in average spring precipitation (+5% to +21%)
  • 16% increase in average fall precipitation (+9% to +26%)
  • Increase in likelihood of drier summer conditions

Extremes

  • Increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme rainfall events
  • Average of 8 days over 30°C annually, up from 1 day

These projections, provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, are in comparison to the baseline historical period of 1971-1990.

The full set of projections were shared during the regional planning process where producers discussed how the anticipated changes would likely affect their operations. Then they identified four climate issues as their top concerns.

1. Increasing wildfire risk

Mountain pine beetle die-off and human management of wildfires has led to a build up of fuels in forests in this region. These forest conditions, combined with climate change, are increasing wildfire risk.

Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George was at the heart of BC’s record-breaking wildfire season in 2018, which:

  • Burned over 1.354 million hectares of land
  • Destroyed structures on more than 60 agricultural properties
  • Affected more than 5,000 head of cattle as well as other livestock

2. Increasing variability & changing crop suitability

Growing degree days are projected to increase faster in Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George than in other parts of the province. Combined with a longer growing season, this is likely to result in shifting crop suitability in some areas.

This may result in new production opportunities, provided that producers can manage well through seasonal variability. Increasingly unpredictable shifts in temperature and precipitation create challenges with timing for key farming activities.

3. Warmer & drier summer conditions

Only an estimated 1.4% of this region’s agricultural land was under irrigation in 2016. But a growing number of producers are considering irrigation due to periods of drier conditions during the production season. In 2018, the Northwest, Upper Fraser West, Upper Fraser East and Nechako regions reached Level 2 to Level 3 drought ratings, meaning these areas were very dry.

4. Changing pest & beneficial insect populations

Mountain pine beetle outbreaks that have affected Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George are partly due to increased winter survival rates. Forestry modelling studies have identified the likelihood of significant shifts in this region’s biogeoclimatic zones. This is likely to result in shifts in the agricultural pests associated with the zones.

Projects

Many of these projects are a direct response to the adaptation strategies and top issues outlined in the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George Adaptation Strategies plan. The projects are developed by CAI with oversight and input from a regional working group.

Other projects deliver applied research that supports climate change adaptation at the farm level. These 2-4 year projects fall under the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program.

Regional climate & production systems

Historical climate and production capacity

This region encompasses two regional districts:

The centre of the region is in the Sub-Boreal Spruce zone, which has hot summers and cold winters. Most of the zone is under snow for four to five months, and the primary growing season is only a few months long.

The climate of the Robson Valley is distinct from the rest of the region, characterized by a zone commonly called the Interior Wet Belt. Summers are relatively dry, but a slow-melting snowpack helps keep soil moisture levels high.

Annual precipitation varies across the region. Vanderhoof and Smithers have annual averages of just under 500 millimetres, while McBride has closer to 700 millimetres. For most of the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George region, long cold winters and cool nighttime temperatures are the major climate limitations for agriculture.

Historically, the region has excellent capability for forage production without irrigation. A very small part of the land in production is under irrigation. Water has typically been a plentiful resource in the region, although this is changing.

To the south of Prince George and through the Robson Valley, the agricultural land runs along the Fraser River. Stretching northwest from Prince George toward Smithers, much of the agricultural land lies close to Highway 16. Most agricultural production is concentrated around Prince George, Vanderhoof, the Bulkley Valley and Lakes District, where the land is relatively flat and the soil is fertile.

Soils across much of the region have high clay content. With good management, the soils can produce forage, silage and grain crops. Currently, an acidic pH and not enough organic matter are challenges for many producers in the region.

Agricultural production

In 2016, the Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George region was home to 1,239 farms — 7% of the farms in BC. Cattle ranching and forage production are the most common agricultural activities in this region. Other agricultural production includes dairy and other livestock (bison, sheep, goats and hogs), grain, horticultural crops and beekeeping.

More grain is grown in the Vanderhoof area than in any other part of BC — outside of the Peace region — and production appears to be increasing in the region. The Robson Valley produces canola, wheat, barley, oats, specialized forage seed and forage crops.

The Robson Valley and Prince George areas have a long history of vegetable production, consisting mostly of root vegetables and other storage crops. Closer to the coast in the northwest, there are also some greenhouses and tree fruit operations.

Many of the vegetable and berry producers in the region grow a variety of crops on a small scale. Half of the vegetable and berry producers extend their growing season with greenhouses. Vegetable and small fruit sales are typically off-farm: direct to stores or at farmer’s markets.

For a complete regional overview, read the plan:

Bulkley-Nechako & Fraser-Fort George Adaptation Strategies plan