The Creston Valley was a perfect fit for this family: (from left) Bryan and Amanda Terpstra (son Jonathan not pictured)

The Creston Valley was a perfect fit for this family: (from left) Bryan and Amanda Terpstra (son Jonathan not pictured)

Chilliwack family finds Creston Valley perfect for dairy operation

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When it became clear that two of their four kids wanted to be in the dairy business, Randy and Carla Terpstra knew the farm Randy’s dad started farming in Chilliwack in 1971 was too small.

After assessing their situation, they decided their best option was to start a plan to relocate. Chilliwack and neighbouring Fraser Valley farming communities were all facing the same challenges — urban encroachment, sub-division of parcels and market demand were forcing prices up at a spectacular rate.

Agricultural land specialist Gord Houweling helped direct the Terpstra family to the Creston Valley, an eight-hour drive east and far from the madding crowds of the Lower Mainland. On the Creston flats, they found what they were looking for. A parcel of more than 400 acres on land reclaimed in a 1930s diking project with good growing conditions, availability of water and no suburban conflicts, just other farming neighbours.

“There is just farming here,” said Bryan Terpstra, who manages the new farm with his dad, during an open house for which much of the farming community in the Creston Valley arrived. “There are no worries about encroachment and conflict with neighbours.”

Randy and Carla purchased the land in 2004 and leased it to another farmer. When the time was right and Bryan was ready to leave his job as a draftsman at a Chilliwack sawmill, they put the family farm of 40 years up for sale. It sold in February 2012.

As to financial viability, it’s easy enough to paint a broad picture. A dairy farm on 79 acres with two houses in Abbotsford is currently listed for $6.875 million. Houweling said Creston Valley farmland can go for $4,000 to $10,000 an acre — “and there are no parcels this size in the Fraser Valley anymore.” For the Terpstras, it made economic sense to take their dairy quota and move it east, where they now have room to increase production and can make plans to support their families into the future.

Houweling said he showed the Creston flats property to others before the Terpstras bought it. They all loved its size and location. Except, of course, the fact that just to the southwest, Highway 3 climbs dramatically to Kootenay Pass. At 1,775 metres, it is one of the continent’s highest year-round highway routes. Subject to winter avalanche conditions, Kootenay Pass and other mountain passes further west can make driving a nightmare for transport truck drivers, including those who haul milk from the Creston Valley’s eight dairy farms.

Road conditions aside, Houweling said the pooling of provincial freight costs has levelled the playing field for farmers outside the Fraser Valley.

“Creston Valley has similar weather and soil conditions, so it seemed a viable alternative,” Carla said. “We see this as an opportunity for our children to build something that they couldn’t otherwise do in Chilliwack. Urban encroachment is a real problem in the Fraser Valley. Getting to know the community here is an added bonus.”

In 2012 the Terpstras started their move east. Two barns, 120 by 180 feet and 126 by 326 feet, were built, a waste management system was constructed and the Creston Valley’s second rotary milking parlour was installed.

Today, those barns are home to 250-300 cows, 130 of which are producing milk. Every other day, an Agrifoods tanker truck arrives to haul away about 7,000 litres of milk from tanks that can hold more than twice that.

Instead of closed-in sidewalls, the larger barn features roll-up blinds that are operated mechanically. Light and air flood in, keeping the air fresh and reducing the use of artificial lighting.

The lack of urban encroachment is clearly evident.

“Sometimes I come out at night and it’s creepy, it’s so dark,” Bryan remarked. “We didn’t have that in Chilliwack.”

Contented cows feed on corn and alfalfa silage, alfalfa hay and another bonus that comes from farming in the Creston Valley, spent grains from Labatt’s Columbia Brewery, producer of the famed Kokanee beer. Custom blends of grain from a Lethbridge mill round out the menu.

“Our plan is to gradually expand production until we are milking up to 180 cows,” Bryan said. “The barns have enough capacity and we can do that without making major changes. Anything much bigger than that is too big, not a family farm anymore.”

“There aren’t many pockets of agriculture land like this anymore,” Houweling said, gesturing around the flat lands that back on to the Kootenay River, with the Selkirk Mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. “You drive into this valley and see 25,000 farmable acres. I think it’s B.C.’s best kept secret.”