Vancouver Island

CAI works with partners on Vancouver Island to deliver projects that equip producers to adapt to climate change.

Many projects flow from the 2020 Vancouver Island Adaptation Strategies plan and its predecessor, the 2013 Cowichan Adaptation Strategies plan. The Vancouver Island plan outlines:

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

CAI developed the regional adaptation plan over 12 months.

Map of the Vancouver Island region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.
Map of the Vancouver Island region, with Agricultural Land Reserve shown in green.

Climate projections & top issues

This section highlights a subset of climate projections important to agriculture in the Vancouver Island region. The projections are for the 2050s and also help illustrate climate change trends.

Temperature

  • 1.6°C to 3.6°C increase in annual average temperatures
  • 36 to 60 more frost free days annually

Precipitation

  • 12% increase in average fall precipitation (+3% to +25%)
  • 13% decrease in average summer precipitation (-32% to +6%)
  • Substantial decrease in spring snowfall

Extremes

  • Increase in frequency and magnitude of extreme rainfall events
  • Increase in average number of days over 30°C annually

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

The full set of sub-regional projections were shared during the regional planning process:

As part of that process, producers discussed how the anticipated changes would likely affect their operations. Then they identified four climate issues as their top concerns.

1. Warmer & drier summer conditions

Dry periods in the summer limit agricultural production throughout much of the Vancouver Island region. Dryland farming is common in the region, particularly for forage and pasture. Demand for irrigation is expected to increase with drier conditions and more extreme heat events.

Key agricultural watersheds that are already challenged to meet peak demand include the Koksilah, in the Cowichan Valley, and the Tsolum, in the Comox Valley.

2. Changing pest & beneficial insect populations

Warming temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, variability and extremes are expected to increase pest pressure in the region. Shifting climate conditions may have been partly responsible for a rare outbreak of true armyworm on Vancouver Island in 2017. Spotted wing drosophila and apple maggot are examples of pests of growing concern for tree fruit and berry producers.

Filling baseline data gaps and improving management practices related to both pest populations and beneficial insect populations is a high priority for producers in the region.

3. Increasing variability & shifting crop suitability

Conditions are becoming increasingly variable within and across production seasons, for example, in the timing of frosts and the timing/quantity of precipitation. Locally relevant information is needed to support farm production and business management decisions.

Production in the Vancouver Island region is unusually diverse: farm operations have fairly small average incomes, and around 17% of the agricultural acreage is leased. Local research and business planning resources need to support the entire range of farm types, scales and capacities in this region.

4. Increasing precipitation & extreme precipitation events

Changes in precipitation are making it harder to manage runoff and drainage on farmland. A range of slope and soil conditions throughout the Vancouver Island region complicates management. Low-lying farmland is particularly vulnerable to seasonal floods that can damage winter crops and affect production in other seasons. Wet conditions can limit access to fields, reducing opportunities associated with longer growing seasons.

Projects

Between 2013 and 2018, CAI implemented eight projects in the Cowichan Valley. These were a direct response to the adaptation strategies and top issues outlined in the Cowichan Adaptation Strategies plan.

In 2020, CAI completed the Vancouver Island Adaptation Strategies plan, which includes all the agricultural areas in the region while building on work completed in the Cowichan Valley. Subsequent projects are a response to the Vancouver Island plan’s strategies and issues and 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 & production capacity

This region includes:

Much of the agricultural area in the Vancouver Island region experiences a long and rainy winter season and dry conditions during the summer. However, sub-regional differences affect agricultural production.

Most the agricultural land in the region is found in valleys and lowlands along the east side of Vancouver Island, as well as in the Alberni Valley and on the Saanich Peninsula. Pockets of agricultural land are also be found on the Gulf Islands and around Metchosin.

Most agricultural production in the region happens in the Capital and Cowichan Valley regional districts. These areas have longer average growing seasons than the other four regional districts.

Glacial till soils cover most of the lowland areas of Vancouver Island. Most soils are class 3 and 4 on southeast Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. Much of the soils could be improved to classes 1 to 3 through either irrigation and/or drainage.

The region includes about 2.3% of the total Agricultural Land Reserve land.

Agricultural production

In 2016, the Vancouver Island region was home to 2,678 farms – 15% of the farms in BC. The region’s production is diverse. It includes many types of horticultural crops – vegetables, berries, nursery and greenhouse – as well various types of livestock and poultry.

About 10% of BC’s dairy operations are on Vancouver Island, with the majority located in the Cowichan and Comox Valley areas. Beekeeping in the region makes up almost 20% of the provincial total. Most agricultural land on Vancouver Island is dedicated to forage production.

The sector has shifted away from commodity production towards production for niche markets, agri-tourism and direct farm marketing across the region.

For a complete regional overview, read the plan:

Vancouver Island Adaptation Strategies plan