Farms struggling in wake of flooding in British Columbia

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Among the GoFundMe campaigns currently underway is one to provide fresh drinking water to animals that are unable to be evacuated on Sumas Prairie.

Lucinda Baumgardner's family watched in horror as their cows struggled in the cold flood waters, many of them collapsing into the swift current. 

According to a post on a GoFundMe page, the three generation Mt. Vernon family worked tirelessly in anticipation of flooding following record-breaking rains across southern British Columbia last week.

The family had moved their herd of cows to higher ground and "prayed their girls would stay safe" until the flood waters had receded. In the animal's desperation to be milked, the cows broke through the fence and headed into the water to get to the milking parlor.

Awakened by the cries of the panicked animals, the Baumgardners struggled in frigid, chest-deep water for hours, trying to save as many of the cows as possible. 

Still, they watched as cow after cow succumbed to the cold, flood water..

"We've lost 44 cows so far," Lucinda posted in a Facebook group. "It feels so unreal."

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said thousands of animals had died and the province was rushing to get veterinarians to other animals that are in danger. 

``I can also tell you that many farmers attempted to move animals and then had to walk away because the roads were disappearing beneath them," she said.

for many dairy farm families impacted by the floods, the nightmare is far from over. Veterinarians, the families themselves and farm employees are working around the clock in an effort to save surviving members of the herd. In addition, there will be weeks and months of lost milk and income, sick cows and veterinarian bills.

And for farms that could milk their cows, it was uncertain if milk trucks could ford the flood waters, or find passable roads to the farms. 

Mike Ferris posted on Facebook that he spent two days, wading through knee-deep flood water, scouting farm driveways and planting markers along the edges to guide the trucks in and out safely.

Phil and Trina Graham's dairy farm was among many in the Abbotsford area in British Columbia that was hit hard by the flood waters, specifically the overflow of water pouring in from the Barrowtown Pump Station.

Andie Kirkland said Trina was able to get the couple's four children to safety while Phil stayed behind as long as he could to move the dairy herd to safety.

"But, much devastation has occurred to the property, barns, feed and their home," Kirkland said on the family's GoFundMe page. "Because the farm is on the flood plain, there is no flood insurance (to help them)."

A barn is seen surrounded by flood waters in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.

BC Dairy Association, a not-for-profit association that represents British Columbia’s dairy farmers said the unprecedented flooding has created severe challenges for dairy farmers, alongside British Columbia's entire agriculture community.

"Sixty-three dairy farms in the Fraser Valley were under evacuation order due to the flooding. Affected farmers, their neighbors and total strangers have rallied together to evacuate thousands of cattle to high ground. Dairy farmers not impacted by the flooding have welcomed these cattle to their own farms, ensuring that they are milked, fed and cared for until they can return to their home farms," the group stated.

BC Dairy said many people have already reached out to the group with offers of assistance and donations to help and support affected farmers already dealing with the drought and pandemic prior to the flooding.

"And yet, as this event demonstrates, it has also been a year of coming together. We will work through this disaster, and do what we can with the circumstances we've been handed. Farmers are nothing if not resilient," said Holger Schwichtenberg, chair of the BC Dairy Association's board and an Agassiz dairy farmer.

Due to road closures, Schwichtenberg said the BC Milk Marketing Board temporarily suspended milk pickup at many BC dairy farms, with milk trucks unable to get to many farms.

Members of the Canadian Forces helps move some 30,000 chickens at a chicken farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Torrential rains caused floods and mudslides in the province, and several deaths as vehicles were swept off the roads by heavy rains.

"Even when a farm was accessible, the truck may not have been able to get its milk to a processing plant," he said. 

Schwichtenberg said it was too early to know what impact the flooding may have on the supply of milk products in stores. He noted that the board was prioritizing deliveries to fluid plants to ensure consumers' needs were being served. 

In response to the inquiries from the public on how to help impacted farmers, BC Dairy Association has set up an emergency recovery fund with monies being used to provide services and supplies to dairy farmers and their families. Electronic transfers were being accepted at floodrecovery@bcdairy.ca 

According to Abottsford News, a crowdsourcing site has launched a centralized hub for all verified fundraisers related to the flooding in BC. The hub can be found by searching "How to help those affected by BC flooding" at gofundme.com. 

British Columbia Premier John Horgan said over the past six months there have been drought conditions in Merritt, where the river was at its lowest point in living memory and where people had to be evacuated because of wildfires in temperatures that were unprecedented. And now, he said, much of the community is under water. 

"We need to start preparing for a future that includes more events like this," Horgan said. 

The weather events are all connected and can be attributed to climate change, said John Clague, a professor in the Earth Sciences Department at Simon Fraser University.

The record temperatures in the summer set the stage for the wildfires, said Clague. The fires burned the ground in a way that prevents water from seeping into the soil. He said that resulted in the water from the torrential rains pouring more quickly into steams and rivers, causing floods.

Associated Press contributed to this report.