Proposed changes to the Agriculture Land Commission (ALC) recently tabled in legislature continue to draw concern some of the farmers most affected by any amendments.
Longtime local cattleman and farmer Rod Hennecker says the current bill should be scrapped, and any changes started over from the ground up.
“I agree some tweaking could be done … such as allowing second houses on pieces of agriculture land, so that sons and daughters can carry on. But a wholesale change is not the way to go.
“For them to divide this province into two zones is kind of an underhanded way of enabling the oil and gas industry to carry on, for one thing.”
This leaves the ALC with a “grey area” as to what sort of uses farmlands can be put to in the province, he notes.
Each year, the commission processes hundreds of applications for removal of land from the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) for non-farming purposes, many of which already get approved.
“But, as Corky Evans, former B.C. Agriculture Minister [in the late 1990s] says, ‘we have had 40 years to decide which land is for farming, and which land is not’.
“If we haven’t figured it out yet … then maybe we should just cut it off.”
Hennecker explains the proposed regional panels won’t be as impartial as the current out-of-region decision makers, because of the potential for local pressure and marketing campaigns.
Loosening the land use constraints in Zone 2 farmland is a “green light” for industry and developers to move in, he adds. The farmer says property values and taxes will then rise, and before long, B.C.’s Interior and Northern agricultural lands will be cost prohibitive for farming use.
Hennecker, who is also Lone Butte Farmers’ Institute and Livestock Association secretary, notes “Zone 2” livestock production provides an important contribution by feeding the people of the province and fuelling its economy.
“I think they are being kind of disingenuous when they say 90 per cent of the farming comes from Zone 1 in the South … because down in that Zone 1 is all the supply-managed industry.”
Hennecker notes those dairy, eggs, poultry and horticulture businesses are high-end agriculture pursuits.
“I think the cattlemen are a little ticked off that they weren’t considered more of a contributor to the B.C. agricultural scene.”
Government seems to be using statistics on the dollars rolling in to corporate bank accounts, but not the “huge” contribution of people fed and employed by livestock producers, he adds.
Hennecker notes Energy & Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who performed the Core Review on the ALC, seems to suggest the ALC’s job is to make farming viable so the act must be changed to accomplish that goal.
“I think it is their job to protect farmland. It’s not their job to make farming viable.”
Instead of changing the ALC, government should determine if it is meeting its own obligations to enhance agriculture and make it a more viable profession, he explains.
Hennecker says part of the original ALR act included supports for farmers that have since been removed, so Bennett’s claim these new changes will benefit B.C. agriculture doesn’t hold water.
“I think they have put quite a spin on it.”