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Fruit growers and RDOS pleased new rules will protect ALR in this region
The BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA) wants to ensure that farmers are engaged in what the government calls “improvements” to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC).
Fred Steele, president of the BCFGA, said the government’s core review of the ALC includes a number of positives that can be explored, but it has raised a number of questions as well.
“I would hope the government will engage the farm community for its input on how we might go forward and clarify the meaning of some of the positions stated.” Steele said.
Last Thursday the minister responsible for the core review, Bill Bennett, announced what the government called improvements to the ALC intended to protect farmland in B.C. and maintain the ALC’s independence.
Bennett said the changes will help farmers and farm families get ahead by recognizing regional differences and strengthening regional decision- making.
“The ALC will remain a fully independent tribunal and decision-maker and continue to make final decisions on specific land uses within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).”
The improvements include the creation of two ALC administered zones to better recognize the province’s regional differences.
In Zone 1 (prime farmland in Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Okanagan, Similkameen and Vancouver Island), ALC decisions will continue to be made on the original principle of preserving agricultural land.
In Zone 2 (Interior, Kootenays and the North), where growing seasons are shorter and there are lower value crops, ALC decisions will now include additional considerations to provide farmers with more flexibility to support their farming operations.
Other improvements include formalizing the ALC’s existing model of six regions and six regional panels to strengthen regional
Under the core review, amendments will be considered to allow new, value-added farming activities, such as food processing. This responds to concerns from farmers that regulations prevent them from growing their agricultural businesses.
In Zone 2, the ALC will be given broader flexibility to consider non-agricultural home-based businesses.
Acceptable uses will be determined through regulation in consultation with the ALC, the agricultural sector and the Union of BC Municipalities.
This flexibility responds to concerns from farmers in areas where growing seasons are shorter and farmers need year-round income to support their farming operations.
Local governments will be required to engage the ALC earlier in land use planning processes, such as official community plans.
The commission will be required to report publicly on its performance measures and all decisions.
Bennett said the commission’s operations will be enhanced by establishing accountability frameworks and service standards, as well as appointing a chief executive officer.
The Ministry of Agriculture will initiate discussions with the ALC and the agricultural sector on how to best support new opportunities for value-added farming activities.
Minister of Agriculture Pat Pimm said the government is open to discussing whether regulations should be updated to help farmers grow their businesses. For example, some say the rules around processing what is grown on the land restricts them from producing more food.
“We’re open to further conversation because we think this could be good for agriculture and food security.”
Pimm said 10 per cent of the land inside the ALR generates 85 per cent of total farm sales, making this (Zone 1) land invaluable.
In the other 90 per cent of the ALR (Zone 2), which generates 15 per cent of BC’s total agricultural sales, the ALC will consider non-agricultural businesses.
“The ALC will still have ultimate discretion, but we’re open to talking about this common sense approach to helping farmers, particularly in parts of BC with shorter growing seasons (and where
incomes generated off the land sometimes isn’t enough to cover the bills).”
The government plans to develop regulations later this year.
Steele thinks it’s a good idea for local governments to approach the ALC early in their planning process.
As for the core review, Steele said having six regions of governance is a concern.
“A lot of pressure can be exerted in a regional area for land exclusion rather than dealing with one or a much larger decision-making body.”
Steele said it is also important to ensure there is enough agriculturally-minded representatives on the decision-making panel.
“I am pleased the government is allowing for more value-added activity on the farm and encouraging farmers and local communities to cooperate in encouraging positive growth. This could have positive impacts on local agri-tourism as well.”
Steele said he welcomes changes that will assist farmers to prosper and stay on the land.
“The most productive way to ensure the preservation of farmland is to ensure profitability for farmers.”
The Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen is pleased that farmland in its two valleys will have continued protection under the core review.
The ALR totals approximately 84,000 hectares in the Okanagan-Similkameen.
Regional district chairman Mark Pendergraft said this area is a critical food source provider.
“With their orchards, farms, vineyards and ranches, both valleys provide an abundance of food to the province.”
Pendergraft is also pleased that the ALC will remain a fully independent tribunal and decision-maker.
“As I understand it, the ALC will continue to make final decisions on specific land uses within the ALR. Our commitment as part of that process is to work with landowners to ensure continued responsible and effective stewardship.”
During the last five years, the regional district has reviewed 68 ALR applications. Twenty of those applications were in Area C (rural Oliver) and 11 were in Area A (rural Osoyoos).
David Haywood-Farmer, president of the BC Cattlemen’s Association, said they are encouraged by the core review.
“Our goal is to see the improvement of the ALR for the present generation of ranching families who are responsible for the stewardship of these lands and for future generations who need to see that there is hope for a sustainable future on these lands.”
Special to the Times