Seaweed, Drones, and Cows: An Optimistic View on Agriculture and Climate Change in BC

Mackenzie Kerr | Contributor

What do seaweed, drones, and speckled parks all have in common?

They are all being used in important research studying agriculture and climate change!

On Oct 26, I attended a one day event titled “Northern Agriculture and Climate Change Research Forum” at UNBC to learn more about our food systems in BC. It brought industry professionals, local organizations, and curious students all together to learn about agriculture research in northern BC. Although I am studying forestry and environmental studies, agriculture is close to my heart because of my thirteen years with the 4-H program. It was great to meet new people and see familiar faces at this event. There were plenty of opportunities to ask the attendants about their businesses, organizations, and how agriculture is connected to climate change in more than one way.

The first of eight presentations was about the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions and their work, that included planning this great event. Next we heard from the project manager of BC Agriculture and Food Climate Action Initiative and their regional adaptation enhancement program. They have completed forty-one projects in the past five years related to agriculture and climate change adaptation. The third presentation was about the Farm Adaptation Innovator Program that focuses on farm level research. Next was a presentation by Dr. Louise Nelson from the UBC Okanagan campus discussing how with climate change advancement, the ideal location for cherries is moving to the north, and with that comes new opportunities for cherry producers.

Next up was a professor from Thompson Rivers University that has been doing a lot of research with seaweed and cattle. As many may know, the methane released from cows has a huge impact on climate change. He found that certain species of seaweed called Asparagopis taxiformis and Mazzella Japonica were found to decrease the methane emitted from cows when this seaweed was mixed into their diet. These research trials are just starting, but hopefully they will have positive outcomes and lots of potential in the future. He also discussed the colour of cattle and the potential to invest in lighter coloured cattle such as speckled parks, because they are better adapted to high temperatures. He has also been using thermal cameras attached to drones to track the temperature of cattle in his field and their respiration rate. In the associated image you can see me wearing the headgear that goes with the drone! There were so many great ideas to help agriculture adapt to climate change, such as increasing agroforestry and working on studying carbon sequestration through soils.

Some of the other presentations included work UNBC has been doing through the Agriculture Network Pilot Project on bioenergy and cash crop feasibility. Some of their research includes exploring new crops such as hemp, gourmet garlic, sugar beets, and more.

We also heard from the newly established Cariboo Agricultural Research Alliance (CARA), and how farm numbers in the Cariboo have dropped forty percent in the last five years! Programs like this one are created to help keep these farms going and feed the people of BC. Last but not least, we heard from the BC Agricultural Climate Adaptation Research Network (ACARN), which is a provincial organization, focused on policy and large agriculture programs in BC.

Overall, I had a wonderful time, learned new things, and am hopeful that the agriculture community in BC is headed in the right direction. The most important thing we can do is support BC agriculture!