Agriculture is an integral part of the history, culture, and social and economic fabric of the Canadian Columbia Basin region. For thousands of years prior to European settlement, local First Nations people inhabited the Columbia River’s shores and utilized land and resources within the Basin for sustenance. In the late 1800s land was marketed to the original European settlers as agricultural property under the Pre-emption Act and they undertook subsistence farming activities. Over time, cultivated agriculture expanded to include mixed production and utilization of Crown range land to meet local needs for agricultural goods. Today, the region supports a diversity of farm operations producing a broad range of agricultural products including tree and bush fruits, vegetables, potatoes, poultry, eggs, milk and other dairy products, cereal grains, hay and Christmas trees, as well as beef cattle, hogs, sheep, goats, horses and specialty livestock.
A number of key research needs have been identified within the context of the three agricultural plans of the Columbia Basin-Boundary regions. These include:
• Analysis of “agri-food systems” for key products and commodities that are currently produced and/or potentially adapted for production within the Basin;
• Agricultural water demand modelling for all watersheds within the Basin;
• Climate change trends and adaptation modelling;
• Agricultural, climatic and economic capability mapping/modelling that links soil and climatic data (including solar radiation), water demand/access modelling and economic/profitability data as a means of identifying the “best use” of available agricultural lands;
• Local/regional food supply capacity feasibility studies to determine what proportion of the total daily dietary requirements (according to the Canada Food Guide recommendations) of Basin residents could realistically be produced and processed locally;
• Collaboration with existing groups and organizations to research and facilitate the development agricultural policy and programming for Paid Ecosystem Services initiatives;
• Supporting local food safety and food security initiatives by assessing the potential for alternative farming/production systems (e.g., organic, GM-free, permaculture) that respond to local niche markets;
• Studies that explore the public amenity benefit associated with agricultural land, similar to those completed for Metro Vancouver and Fraser Valley-Abbotsford; and
• Opportunities for innovation and productivity enhancement in each segment of the agriculture and agri-food system: primary production, food processing, consumer services and food distribution.