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Letter: Delighted with ALC changes
I am delighted to see some much-needed changes to the Agriculture Land Commission Act recently being introduced into the provincial legislature.
I have been working as an agricultural professional in the Province of BC since 1974. I worked as an agricultural advisor for the B C Ministry of Agriculture in the East Kootenay region from 1975 until my retirement in 2003. This posting provided opportunities to work in many areas of the province, particularly in the proposed Zone 2 section. Our family has owned and operated a commercial farm business in the Cranbrook area since 1979, bringing direct experience in the business of farming.
Since the establishment of the Agricultural Land Reserve and accompanying legislation in 1973, we have witnessed the impacts this legislation has had on farmers, communities and businesses throughout the province. The primary purpose of the 1972 legislation was “to preserve agricultural land and encourage the establishment and maintenance of farms” (from History of the ALR, alc.gov.bc.ca website). Preserving agricultural land and maintaining farms are two functions that are fundamentally linked. Obviously preserving agricultural land without maintaining and establishing farms defeats the purpose. Similarly, maintaining and establishing farms without the availability of agricultural land would be a futile.
The Agricultural Land Reserve has no doubt protected and preserved valuable agricultural land across BC since its inception in 1973. This is an essential element of the Agricultural Land Reserve. Under the amended act, the ALR will continue to serve this invaluable function.
Maintaining and establishing farms, a mandate of the original legislation, has not been a significant priority of the Land Commission over the past 40 years. There have been few policies or programs developed by the commission to directly encourage the establishment and maintenance of farms.
It is interesting to note that 90% of the ALR land resides in the proposed Zone 2, while this zone generates only 15% of the gross farm receipts. How is it that a whopping 85% of the farm receipts are generated on only 10% of the land in the ALR? There are certainly extreme regional differences in the utilization, capability and income generating potential of agricultural land among the various regions of British Columbia.
In the East Kootenay, there are approximately 258,000 ha of land in the ALR. Approximately 94,000 ha of this ALR land is privately held. The remaining 164,000 ha (64%) is in Crown Land tenure. Within the 94,000 ha of ALR land privately held, only approximately 16,000 ha (17%) is improved farmland or land that has been cultivated (6% of all the ALR land in the East Kootenay). The capability of the land in the ALR, climate constraints, availability of irrigation, market availability, economic constraints, etc., are all factors associated with the utilization of this land for farming purposes. Again, these figures point to major regional differences.
It is important to note that the new bill will preserve the purposes of the commission as laid out in Section 6 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act (2002). The act will thus maintain its important function of preserving agricultural land.
It is particularly rewarding that the new legislation will elevate the importance and powers of regional panels. This will help reflect regional needs and realities in the decisions of the commission.
Under the proposed amendments, the act will also establish the need for the commission to consider economic, cultural and social values as well as regional and community planning objectives in carrying out its duties. This will strengthen cooperative efforts between the commission and regional planning bodies and will help to recognize and accommodate regional needs and differences in Land Commission decisions. This is a critical element for the sustainability of farming in many areas of the province. Agriculture cannot function independent of the communities in which it occurs. Farming depends on surrounding communities for markets, labor, resources and infrastructure. Farming also depends on local communities for schools, off farm employment, and many of the other needs of the family farm.
The policies and regulations that support Bill 24 are yet to come. We have been promised effective involvement in this process and we must hold the BC government to this promise.
We must recognize the opportunities that are provided by the amendments to the Agricultural Land Commission Act through Bill 24. These provisions will enable us to improve the preservation of agricultural land and strengthen the future of farming in the province. We need to work hard to seize these opportunities by helping to establishing improved policies and regulations that will secure our farms and assist agriculture in achieving its full potential in the Province of BC.