History of Agriculture in Delta
In 1868 two brothers, Thomas and William Ladner, started cultivating land in and around what is now Ladner. Soils were improved and the surrounding lowlands were cleared, drained and diked to make use of the productive Delta soils. By the late 1870s, Ladner was a centre for agricultural businesses and related fishing operations within the Lower Mainland. All open land on the delta was homesteaded or purchased for $1–2/acre by 1875.
Industry associations were and remain an important part of farming in Delta. The Delta Agricultural Society was founded on January 21, 1888 in Ladner. Annual membership fees were $2.50/year and in 1893 the first annual agricultural fair and cattle show was hosted by the Society. The Delta Farmers’ Institute was later founded in January of 1898. Both associations continue to be strong advocates for farming in Delta.
The diversity of products grown in Delta has increased over the years. Early crops included timothy hay, oats, and potatoes; tree fruits like pears, plums and hazelnuts; and berries such as currents, gooseberries, cranberries and blueberries. In the late 1800s, farming in Delta was subsistence based.
Families began to raise chicken and cattle for their own use and to meet demand for beef from the mining towns of the interior. Consequently forage and fodder crops like hay, oats, barley, wheat and turnips were grown to feed livestock. Dairy wasn’t a significant industry until the 1920s as milk was perishable and surrounding urban areas were not yet dense enough to support a dairy market.
By the 1920s, farming in Delta had changed and crops became more diverse. In the 1930s, a number of vegetable canneries had been constructed in Delta, and beans, carrots, corn and peas were the most popular crops grown in the area. Dairying peaked around this time with the establishment of one of the region’s first condensaries, the Pacific Milk Company.
Forage production continued to be a mainstay well into the mid-1900s. Although steam and gas-powered equipment had worked the land for some time, the increase in dairy operations continued to be supported by hay and pasture production. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, there was a fundamental change in the way farms were managed in Delta. The construction of the George Massey Tunnel opened Delta to neighbouring communities. In addition, expansion of specialty crops, advances in farming technology, and the expropriation of a significant area of farmland caused a shift in farm management practices. Some farms began to move from mixed farming to solely vegetable production or dairy operations. In the 1960s, sugar beet seed was the most important field crop grown in Delta. In fact, Delta was the only spot in Canada where sugar beet seed was grown!
By the late 1980s, less than 10% of the land was under forage production and local processing facilities were on the decline, as was soil productivity. Fast forward to the early 1990s when another change in farming occurred with the arrival of a number of greenhouses. Delta saw an influx of greenhouses in the early '90s, and although greenhouses cover less than 2% of the landscape, today their contribution to farm sales in Delta is considerable.
These days, farming in Delta is more diverse with a range of organic and non-organic crops, including cabbage, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, beets, Brussels sprouts, peas, beans, potatoes (both seed and food), Swiss chard, kale, lettuce, bok choi, kohlrabi, zucchini, pumpkins, corn (both food and silage), strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, grain, tomatoes, peppers, dairy, poultry and cattle.
Family farming continues to be a long-standing tradition in Delta, with 90% of farms being family owned and operated.