Advanced ed minister tours UFV’s Agriculture Centre of Excellence

New Chilliwack facility includes a state-of-the-art greenhouse, billed as the tallest in North America

UFV campus planner Craig Toews (second from right)

The B.C. Minister of Advanced Education has fielded several questions as to why the University of the Fraser Valley was chosen for the Agriculture Centre of Excellence.

His response:

“Why not UFV?”

Amrik Virk, minister of advanced education, toured UFV’s not-yet-completed demonstration barn and the state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities Thursday morning.

With roofers working overhead and diggers outside, Virk listed off several farming statistics to the agriculture students, fellow politicians, UFV dignitaries, and media touring with him.

The five per cent of agricultural land reserve (ALR) that’s based in the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and Okanagan produces 85 per cent of the province’s total farming revenue. Of that, over 50 per cent comes from Chilliwack.

“Rather than ask ‘Why here?’ I ask ‘Why not here?’” said Virk.

“What better place to put a centre of excellence.”

The provincial government contributed $1 million to the $2.5 million facility last April.

The 783-square-metre demonstration barn will simulate larger facilities on a much smaller scale giving students hands-on practical experience, as well as providing an important research tool for animal care.

The barn will house poultry, pigs, cows and horses.

One side will be heated for the poultry and pigs, and the other side kept cold for the cattle.

There’s going to be broilers and wide automatic nests for the free-run chicken and turkeys, as well as grower rooms and farrowing nurseries for the swine.

On the cattle side, there will be a single milking pit equipped with all the high-end equipment of a large dairy farm.

“When students come in here, instead of milking 500 cows, they’ll be milking one, but with all the latest technology,” said Paul Gumprich, head of the livestock department at UFV.

“This is a barn like something you might have seen back in the 1950s with family farms that had everything.”

The cathedral-like greenhouse next to the barn is one-of-a-kind.

Designed by BW Global Structures Inc, the 600-square-metre, multi-walled greenhouse was constructed using the latest in greenhouse design.

At just under 12 metres from bottom to peak, it’s the tallest greenhouse in North America. It’s also the first greenhouse in the world programmed to be either pressurized or depressurized. And the first in the world to have built-in fall restraints for safety.

As well, the polycarbonate covering allows for 95 per cent light diffusion. Unlike glass greenhouses, there is no shade with polycarbonate. That means more efficient production.

With a facility like this, said Virk, it’s hoped more youth will take an interest in agriculture.

“All across Canada, we want to make sure people are going back to the farm; we don’t want our farms left fallow,” he said. “In B.C., 40 per cent of the population is eating B.C. grown food – we want to make that 60 per cent.

“All you students taking agriculture [at UFV], you’re in the right place at the right time.”

The facilities are expected to be complete and operating by early January.

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