Fraser Valley

CAI works with partners in the Fraser Valley to deliver projects that equip producers to adapt to climate change.

Many projects flow from the 2015 Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategies plan that outlines:

  • 5 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 Fraser Valley region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.
Map of the Fraser Valley region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.

Climate projections and top issues

This section highlights a subset of climate projections important to agriculture in the Fraser Valley. 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
  • 43 to 72 more frost free days annually

Precipitation

  • 12% decrease in average summer precipitation (-38% to -1%)
  • 50% decrease in precipitation falling as snow (-55% to -43%)

Extremes

  • Increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme rainfall events
  • Average of 26 days over 30°C annually, up from 7 (Abbotsford)
  • Average of 29 days over 30°C annually, up from 8 (Chilliwack)

These projections, provided by the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, are in comparison to the baseline historical period of 1961-1990.

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 five climate issues as their top concerns.

1. Warmer & drier summer conditions

Close to 40% of agricultural land in the Fraser Valley region is irrigated to maintain crop health and productivity during dry summer conditions. A 2015 report estimated that agricultural water demand in the Fraser Valley during dry years has been almost double (192%) that of wet years. Some of the region’s water sources are already stretched to meet demand.

2. Increasing precipitation & extreme precipitation events

The seasonal distribution of precipitation is projected to shift. Less rain is expected to fall in the summer and average annual precipitation is likely to increase during spring and fall.

Rain will also be concentrated in more frequent and intense precipitation events resulting in greater challenges with managing runoff — both onto and off — the predominantly low-lying agricultural land base. This will also create more challenges with undertaking key farming activities during spring and fall, such as preparing fields, planting and harvesting.

3. Changing freshet flood risk

The potential for spring flooding of the Fraser River is a seasonal threat for communities in the floodplain. Climate change could potentially increase the size and frequency of large floods on the Fraser River

The Fraser Valley experienced major freshet floods in 1894 and 1948. More recently, the region experienced elevated freshet flood risk in 2007, 2012 and 2018.

A freshet flood in the Fraser Valley would have serious consequences for agricultural operations in this region. It would also impact the entire province’s food supply and related infrastructure as the region is home to much of BC’s food storage, food processing and agricultural spin-off industries.

4. Changes to pests & pollinators

Pest populations are shifting with the changing climate, particularly as warming reduces winter die off and enables additional pest cycles within a single season.

Since it was first identified in BC in 2009, spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has become established in many southern areas of the province. SWD threatens berry and fruit crops and is of particular concern to blueberry growers in the Fraser Valley. Western corn rootworm is another recent arrival in the Fraser Valley — first detected in 2016 — and cause for concern to forage and sweet corn producers in the region.

5. Greater frequency & intensity of extreme heat events

By the 2050s, there will be a substantial increase in the average number of days per year over 30°C in the Fraser Valley.

This shift toward more periods of extreme heat is already in progress: multiple single-day high temperature records were broken across the Fraser Valley between 2005 and 2015, as well as in 2017 and 2020.

Dairy, poultry and berries — all common in the Fraser Valley — are particularly vulnerable to extreme heat events.

Projects

Many of these projects are a direct response to the adaptation strategies and top issues outlined in the Fraser Valley 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 and production systems

Historical climate and production capacity

This region consists of the Fraser Valley Regional District, which has a fairly mild climate with one of the longest frost-free periods in Canada.

The region receives an average annual precipitation of close to 1,600 millimetres, with 75% of that falling between October and April. However, summers are typically dry, and irrigation is needed to maintain agricultural productivity.

Most agricultural land in the region is found on the floodplain of the Lower Fraser River. Urban development has happened on or close to these prime agricultural lands.

Soils within the region are some of the most fertile in Canada. Through much of the valley, soils have a range of characteristics and capability ratings. The majority of soil is class 3 or better and can be improved with proper drainage and/or irrigation.

In 2016, about 71,700 hectares were included in the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Agricultural production

In 2016, the Fraser Valley region had 2,576 farms – 15% of the farms in BC. Average farm size is 23 hectares, compared to the province-wide average of 132 hectares.

The environment, soils and topography in the Fraser Valley allow the production of a diverse set of agricultural goods. The region is home to a high proportion of BC’s supply-managed operations: over 50% of dairy and almost 40% poultry and egg production.

Mainly related to the dairy sector, the region also produces field crops for feed, including corn, alfalfa and other hay and fodder crops. The Fraser Valley Regional District produces the second-highest share of the province’s field vegetables, after the Metro Vancouver regional district.

Other production in the region includes:

  • Berries, with a focus on blueberries
  • Greenhouse and nursery
  • Mushroom operations
  • Mixed production and organic farms

For a complete regional overview, read the plan:

Fraser Valley Adaptation Strategies plan