Dr. Tom Baumann and PhD candidate Eric Gerbrandt discuss how pruning these raspberry floricanes at the Krause Berry Farms in Langley will take all winter to do properly.
The Pacific Berry Resource Centre, which is part of the University of the Fraser Valley, is doing more than improving the bottom line for berry growers. This dedicated team, led by Tom Baumann, an instructor with UFV, is helping the entire agriculture industry as well as berry farmers.
The resource centre began when the BC Blueberry Council, the Raspberry Industry Development Council of BC and the BC Strawberry Growers Association signed an agreement with the university to participate in support of the centre. While these three berries make up the majority of the projects taken on, there are other, more unlikely projects Baumann, and his right hand man, Eric Gerbrandt, have participated in.
“At the Berry Resource Centre, we have contract research projects we do for the member groups,” Gerbrandt says. “Our goal is to increase the bottom line for farmers.”
Last year Gerbrandt led a project growing rice for a producer who wants to make local, organic sake. While this project certainly falls outside the scope of the “usual” projects, it is an illustration of how the team is more interested in making a difference than in creating academic case studies.
Examples of recent projects that illustrate the centre’s standard work include identification of raspberry yield declines, blueberry variety tests, new cultural management techniques, studies of naturally occurring plant growth regulators and modified planting arrangements.
“There are so few people in the industry that can do what we do,” Baumann states. “There are lots more people involved [than just Baumann and Gerbrandt]. We take the ivory tower notion as an insult. Each [project] is entirely industry driven, which is very different from the academic world.”
Students from UFV, and beyond are the “lots more people” Baumann is referring to, but on a day to day basis, it’s just him and Gerbrandt. Gerbrandt, Baumann quickly points out, is part of his succession plan. He sees Gerbrandt, who runs all the projects and is working on his PhD, replacing him in the future, so the two work to grow and develop the industry, each other and their fellow team mates.
This symbiotic relationship is similar to the way projects are initiated and managed by the team.
“The majority of the projects we do, we’ll write a grant,” Gerbrandt says. “We run these projects for them [the partners or those, like the sake producer, who provided direct funding], then we run the analysis, do a write up and the main delivery is the LMHIA (Lower Mainland Horticulture Improvement Association short course at the Pacific Agriculture Show), when it is a partner project.”
Nearly every project is conducted on a working, producing farm.
“We respond to industry need,” comments Baumann. “Our research is run on farms for farms. They have the best facilities. We work with probably about two dozen farms around B.C. With that support of industry, we will always be held accountable.”
Currently in the works is a $2.3 million greenhouse, barn and soil-based facility in Sardis. This new facility will accommodate berry research that may not be feasible on a production farm and will also include all other aspects of agriculture.
Baumann points to Premier Christy Clark’s letter instructing the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Advanced Education to make UFV a centre of excellence for agriculture.
While the centre is poised to be part of this centre for excellence, Gerbrandt notes they will still be focused on delivering results to the industries they do projects for.
“It sets us apart in terms of our view,” he says. “We work in mainstream agriculture. We’re not pigeonholed.”
Even while working on his PhD, Gerbrandt says his focus remains with the big picture of supporting farmers in the real world.
“I intend to build up a skill set for myself of field and lab techniques that can be used to bring new crops, new varieties of old crops and new production methods for those crops to B.C. and in so doing, reach the aim of a better bottom line for farmers,” he says.
New processing opportunities and diversification is also important according to the pair.
Baumann uses blueberries as an example, “The blueberry has seen a decrease in price all over the world. If the global market crashes, we all crash. Consumption is still below production.”
He points to the diversity already occurring and notes that new markets, new products and new options must be developed to ensure continuous sale of crops.
“Walk down almost any grocery aisle, you’ll be hard pressed to find a section that doesn’t include blueberries somewhere. This is part of what we do,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what someone might be interested in studying. That’s all very well and good, but let’s talk about what is actually going to increase a farmer’s revenue.” ■