DELTA – Many farmers block off their calendars for the field days that give them a chance to share information, learn and socialize.
This year will be different, however, as ongoing restrictions designed to curb COVID-19 has changed the format of most field days.
Alexis Arthur, owner of Pacific Forage Bag Supply Ltd. in Delta, says she might be hosting two field days this summer, one in Matsqui and the other in Sumas. If they go ahead, they will be different from the usual setup. While her events normally feature a steak BBQ under a tent as part of the draw, sitting together and buffets aren’t on the menu this year.
“When you hear the numbers [of COVID-19 cases] getting higher, as a business I have to be mindful,” she says.
She had intended on hosting four field days, and explained the parameters the events would have to follow to the co-host businesses and farmers. Subsequently, two events were cancelled, one because underlying health issues at the host farm made hosting unwise.
“In light of the rising numbers, I basically said I’d like feedback and I’d like to know if everyone is comfortable having the events on their land,” she explains. “We’ve gone from having four to … [possibly] two. With those increasing [COVID-19 case] numbers, I think people are getting a little more anxious.”
Whether or not any field day events proceed, Arthur will complete the trials on all viable plots from the four sites and collect information. To do so, she will set up the fields in usual field day crop fashion to examine the trial forage. She may invite a few individuals to come out to gain the information first-hand without the formalities of a field day.
She’s keen to share information because it’s been a tough year for growers of forage crops such as corn.
“There’s valuable information that they can get their hands on. It was a bloody hard year for [corn],” she says.
Results of trials Pacific Forage conducted will be posted online and Arthur intends to add short videos detailing information about varieties.
“Maybe we put some money we put towards BBQs to an effective video,” she says.
Okanagan Fertilizer trialed 15 corn varieties this year but opted to skip its field day.
“What we are thinking is if people want to go look at the new varieties, we can take them out there individually,” says sales agronomist Caleb Stuart.
The company planted new varieties from a supplier that wasn’t previously selling seed in BC and Stuart believes the results will be useful to growers.
Strawberry, raspberry and blueberry growers also missed out on their field days this year. Blueberry growers are still expected to have an annual general meeting in the fall, but a field day is unlikely to be part of the event.
Integrated Crop Management Services (ICMS) is still considering options for a field day, says BC regional manager Grant McMillan.
“At this point, we may run it based on appointments,” he says. “We still have been doing small tours whenever a client needs to look at the trials.”
The BC Potato & Vegetable Growers Association potato variety field day is a popular event that typically draws interest from across the country. Organizers modified it to respect COVID-19 protocols, limiting attendance to 20 people an hour and eliminating the food component.
Kootenay and Boundary Farm Advisors cancelled its spring and summer field days, but coordinator Rachael Roussin resumed the events when the province moved to Phase 3 of its reopening plan. She plans to host six field days before December but the events will be tightly focused and attendance limited to no more than 20 people in keeping with provincial health orders.
“The field days are specific and targeted in their approach and theme,” she says. “Agriculture is an essential service and people haven’t stopped [farming]. Life is continuing for the ag sector and this is supporting them. We have done some online extension events. They’ve been awesome, but everyone says you can’t beat face-to-face.”
Pacific Agriculture Show goes virtual
The prospect of prolonged restrictions on large public events has prompted BC’s biggest agriculture show to go online in 2021.
Originally scheduled for Tradex in Abbotsford on January 28-30, the Pacific Agriculture Show will pivot to a virtual format in 2021 with plans for the 2022 event to return to Tradex, says show manager Jim Shepard.
“We’ll be pivoting and producing a world-class virtual show,” he says. “There’s all kinds of reasons for doing it.”
An online portal will allow visitors to explore the trade show floor, which will reflect the usual layout at Tradex. They’ll be able to visit booths, have private chats with vendors, access product information and even enjoy the virtual petting zoo.
The education dimension will also continue, with the show’s partner conferences also moving online. The Horticultural Growers’ Short Course, Cannatech West and Ag Innovation Day have all agreed to run their programs.
Shepard is excited about the opportunities the virtual space provides, including inviting speakers from around the world in addition to the short course’s usual presenters.
He also sees an opportunity to expand the show’s reach and influence to an even wider audience.
Shepard expects to send packages outlining the event and explaining registration opportunities to show exhibitors in mid-September.
“Everyone seems pretty keen to make this a success,” he says. “We’re going to have virtual farm tours, virtual demonstrations, all highly interactive and in real time.”