November 17, 2021
Over two days – November 15 and 16 – the B.C. mainland and Vancouver Island experienced as much as 250+ mm of rainfall leading to flooding, mud and rockslides and power outages. Evacuations have taking place in many communities.
B.C. has a population of 5 million, with almost 3 million concentrated in the lower mainland, including 2.5 million in Vancouver and .3 million in the Fraser Valley Regional District.
There are 2,997 food processing facilities in the province. The Mainland-South Coast area has the greatest concentration of food processing facilities and include berries, dairy, and poultry processors. The province is responsible for 9 percent of Canada’s food and beverage processing. The primary agriculture and seafood sectors represents almost $5 billion in annual sales (2018). The top six commodities by sales receipts are farmed salmon, dairy products, chicken, greenhouse vegetables, floriculture and beef.
CURRENT INFRASTRUCTURE SITUATION
As of November 17, three main highways from B.C. to Alberta are closed east of Hope, with no immediate estimate of when they will be passable, rail service in the B.C. interior has been suspended due to washouts and all rail traffic out of the Port of Vancouver has been halted. Transportation into Northern BC remains open as does road access from the U.S. Rail traffic from the U.S. is reported to be impacted.
The situation in B.C. is currently in flux with infrastructure assessments in progress and no official estimates on when highways will reopen. The B.C. government has reported that Highway 3, the Hope-Princeton Highway, may be reopened by the end of the weekend, potentially restoring limited access into the affected area of the province. CN and CP also estimate that rail service may resume in a “couple more days”. The Port of Vancouver is awaiting damage assessments before it can estimate a timeframe for reopening.
FOOD SYSTEM RISK ANALYSIS
Food supply chain leaders have come together to evaluate the risk to the food system from the current situation and to identify potential options to alleviate potential food security and animal welfare issue. This risk assessment is focused specifically on the need to secure passage for food and animal feed into the area affected by the closure of rail and highway corridors in the B.C. lower mainland (the affected area).
It is noted that Northern B.C. and areas east of Kamloops remain accessible from Alberta, allowing for the potential that these regions are served from food distribution networks in Edmonton and Calgary, respectively. In addition, some of the food needs in the affected area can be met by local food production and by limited shipments into the province through northern Alberta-B.C. routes and from the U.S.
The retail sector estimates that the affected area of the province holds approximately one week of supply in retail stores and distribution centers. These supplies will be replenished as noted above. However, without regular shipment levels, supplies will deteriorate quickly. Retailers, wholesalers and direct suppliers are reconfiguring distribution channels in response to the situation on the ground. Transportation back-ups and driver shortages, along with infrastructure barriers, will however impact the ability to move product from distribution centers to retail, particularly impacting perishable and fresh products. Concerns are heightened for independent grocers which generally operate with lower inventories. Retailers are already experiencing panic buying and empty shelves and have cautioned about the potential for food fraud. Retail associations are encouraging their members to limit certain essential product. Emergency Management BC is is holding a meeting with BC retail network November 17 to consider the situation.
Agriculture producers and food processors are reporting significant concerns related to the situation in B.C.
Produce: The produce sector reports that retail stores in the lower mainland will run out of many fresh produce items within the next two days. Some fresh produce held in distribution centers, is expected to spoil in areas where it cannot be shipped due to infrastructure issues or store closures in affected areas. 40 precent of produce imported from Asia transit through the Port of Vancouver. Perishable fresh produce, generally shipped and received daily, has been unable to leave the province for two days. With that, distribution centers in Calgary are expected to deplete fresh produce inventory by more than 60% within the next 48 hours which will cause a significant fresh produce supplies shortage in all grocery stores in Alberta. The greenhouse sector notes that while there have been some incidents of flooding and product dumping, the sector is largely at the end of its annual growing season. With propagators impacted by the flooding, there are concerns with the sector’s ability to start up in the New Year. However, the main impacts are expected to be longer term impacts are expected
Dairy: 80 percent of milk produced in BC is currently non accessible, with some dairy farms currently under water. All the available milk production (20 percent of regular capacity) is being directed in priority to fluid milk processing. As a result, there is currently no manufacturing of butter, cheese, or yogurt in the province. In addition, the fluid milk production that is taking place represents only half of province’s fluid milk needs. B.C. milk production currently offline represents 7 percent of total Canadian milk production. Industry reports that, even if intra-provincial transport were possible, other provinces will not be able to make up the short fall. Fluid milk production is highly concentrated in 3 plants, all of which are currently considered accessible. The evacuation order in Abbotsford raises grave concerns regarding the fate of farms in the area and ongoing production levels.
Poultry: Industry continues to evaluate the number of turkey, broiler, layer and hatching egg flocks lost due to flooding, but can confirm that entire flocks have been lost in the evacuation areas. In addition, road closures have made pickups for all sectors (eggs, hatching eggs) difficult or impossible – which will lead to waste and long-term impacts on supply. As noted below, feed availability is a critical and ongoing issues. With road closures, processing establishments are experiencing staffing issues. The sector is also anticipating interruptions to essential packaging supplies as well. The sector has begun to evaluate the potential to transport birds through the U.S. to facilitate shipments both in and out of the province. Industry notes that BC has activated its Poultry Emergency Operations Center and has raised concerns that disruptions in the availability of water and electricity could have a significant impact on animal welfare and food supply.
Processing: The impact on processing capacity in the province is still being evaluated. Beyond food itself, companies are reporting the potential packaging shortage where B.C. production and transportation are impacted by the situation. Also required is an assessment of any impact on availability of PPE, required to meet public health needs.
Wine: The industry is experiencing business and supply chain disruptions with knock on effects across country.
Animal Feed: The sector estimates there are 2 to 3 days of grain available in the province. All major feed mills are accessible. With the intra-provincial rail and road system down, however there are few options to replenish supply. Industry is examining options to secure grain from the U.S. with some shipments coming in along the I5. Industry recognizes that there is usable product in the province and is suggesting that feed ingredients/grain now at the Port of Vancouver for export be diverted to support the feed system. The sector is working collaboratively to ration feed and has moved to a system of survival feeding. The sector is working with the CFIA for the necessary approvals to support this move. The focus is currently on poultry with dairy and other ruminants being shifted to hay and forage.
Industry is making the following planning assumptions:
Week 1: November 15 to 21
- Provincial and federal emergency response is focused on public safety and infrastructure
- The only operating route into B.C. is road system through the U.S. or through Northern B.C.
- Short term food supply holds, with incidents of panic buying creating isolated shortages and food security issues arising for vulnerable groups impacted by disrupted food bank system and evacuations
- Short term animal feed supply holds, with industry prioritizing survival over nutritional efficiency
- Sectors continue to evaluate impact on food production and processing systems
Week 2: November 22 to 28
- Infrastructure assessment is complete with the potential for one highway (Hope-Princeton) reopening and providing one access route into the province.
- Rail lines from Alberta to B.C. reopen; followed by reopening of Port of Vancouver rail system. Back-ups remain significant.
- Without alternate plan, food shortages become more widespread.
- Impact of flooding on animal mortality becomes clearer.
- Without feed stock, livestock mortality increases.
FOOD SYSTEM IMMEDIATE ACTIONS (Week 1 and 2)
The immediate term objectives are to stabilize the supply of food and animal feed in the affected area. Having reviewed and debated different scenarios, industry has identified the following key options:
As provincial rail and highways reopen, prioritize transportation of Essential Goods: This scenario assumes that rail travel resumes into the BC lower mainland and that Highway 3 reopens. Given all the options reviewed, this was viewed as the only one with the potential to support the volumes of food/feed/supporting goods requiring transit into the provinces.
- In the immediate term, access to these routes should be prioritized for/limited to essential goods including domestic food, ingredients, feed, packaging etc.
- Restrictions should be placed on non-essential travel and goods to free space for priority items and to restrict congestion.
- Emergency equipment should be deployed to maintain the open corridors and ensure rapid response to any accidents.
- Clear guidance should be provided on any new weight restrictions resulting from stress on infrastructure.
Increase shipments of goods into B.C. through the U.S.: In this scenario, products are shipped from Alberta or other provinces into B.C. via the U.S.
- National associations are currently examining the potential to ship product in Bond through the U.S. under a program operated by CBSA. Any information on this program – including an information session with CBSA – would be helpful.
- Industry has noted that the shortage of bonded truck drivers will likely place limits on the extent to which industry can rely on this option and are conducting research into this.
- Waivers/exemptions may be needed for weight restrictions/axel limits on transit between US and Canada. S. weight restrictions do not allow for heavier Canadian containers. This would need to be pursued through diplomatic or government channels.
Air Freight/Air Drops: While prohibitive from a cost standpoint to ship food/grains on commercial or cargo flights, the potential for military transportation has been identified as a potential transportation option. There is also a report that the BC government is considering helicopters to transport ingredients and feed to mills. The feed industry has indicated feed could be packed in totes and potentially transported by helicopter.
Divert Product in Transit: Industry has considered the potential to divert product that is at the Port of Vancouver or stuck in traffic for local use. This could be an option for the animal feed sector, if feed grains (wheat, barley, etc…) could be diverted.