It may be one of B.C.’s most precious resources, but agricultural land is far from ample.
“It really is a finite resource,” said Kim Grout, the Agricultural Land Commission’s new CEO.
“Really we’re only talking about five per cent of the province.”
Speaking to Coldstream council Monday, Grout shared some of the recent changes to the ALC and Agricultural Land Reserve and helped shed some insight into the operations.
Of that five per cent of agricultural land, only 2.7 per cent is suitable for crop production and only 1.1 per cent is prime ALR land.
The ALR is made up of two zones (divided into six regions), zone one includes the Okanagan and only 10 per cent of the ALR is in zone one.
While the ALC has the main authority over the land, Grout reminded Coldstream that individual municipalities also play a role.
“We really believe that we need to work together to strengthen that land base,” said Grout.
Whether it’s an application to subdivide or for non-farm use, municipalities have no obligation to forward applications onto the ALC.
“That’s absolutely the right of local government,” said Grout.
One area Coldstream is looking for some direction in is control over growing farm operations.
“We now have cherry growers that are spraying all night long,” said Coun. Doug Dirk.
“The operators have to have protective equipment but the adjacent neighbours don’t have any protective equipment.”
But under the right to farm act, farmers have rights which cannot be controlled despite neighbouring concerns.
“The ALC doesn’t say how you farm,” said Grout, as the commission cannot interfere but there are avenues through the farm industry review board and possibly the Ministry of Agriculture.
“Regulation is always a challenge. You have to be careful that by regulating you don’t in fact prohibit an act of farming.”
The ALC does investigate complaints, which are prioritized, and it does have more resources to do so.
“We have six compliance officers now, that’s up from one when I started,” said Grout.
Another concern in Coldstream is the recent change allowing large gatherings to take place on agricultural land.
“We’re now having to deal with a farm use that involves weddings,” said Coun. Richard Enns.
Grout points out that local governments can use their bylaws to control noise, parking, temporary structure and a number of concerns.
“You can restrict their hours or anything like that.”
On the flip side, Coldstream wants to make sure there are protections in place for farmers.
“I believe some of these farmers are getting harassed by one or two neighbours,” said Coun. Peter McClean, adding that farming is tough enough as it is.
“What protects the farmer from that constant harassment?”
Grout points to the ministry of Agriculture again as a resource for farmers.
But McClean questions if it could even lend a hand.
“I know the ministry of Agriculture is not going to, they don’t have the time or manpower either.”
ALC commissioner Jim Johnson, from Cherryville, appreciates Coldstream’s support for farmers.
“We gotta eat. Urbanization comes into agriculture and the people aren’t happy but we gotta eat.”