This week, once again, the Agricultural Land Reserve is in the news. Obviously, agriculture is incredibly important, not only to the South Cariboo economy, but, in a larger sense, for sovereignty as well. In the Cariboo-Chilcotin / Lillooet region, there are more businesses in the agriculture, forest, fishing and hunting industry than any other industry, according to the 2019 State of the North Report (although that’s not likely a surprise to anyone).
The current legislation, Bill 15, has been a bit of a flashpoint with both the Liberals and the NDP doing plenty of mudslinging. At face value, the Ministry of Agriculture obviously has a duty to protect farming in B.C. With this bill, the ministry is clearly protecting farmland but that’s not per se the same as protecting farming.
One of the things the ministry included in their lastest release, something they’ve drawn attention to before, is that “Currently, 10 per cent of the land in the ALR produces 85 per cent of B.C.’s farm receipts, and 3 per cent of ALR land in the South Coast region produces 65 per cent of the province’s farm receipts.”
Surely if that is the status of farming in B.C., the objectives for the ministry should be fairly clear:
1) Prioritize protecting farmland in the 10 per cent of the ALR that produces 85 per cent of B.C.’s farm receipts.
2) Work with farmers to increase productivity in the other 90 per cent of the ALR.
Ministry bills have been focused only on the first portion. Not only that, but it seems as though they’ve looked at the issues facing that 10 per cent and extrapolated the solutions to the entirety of the ALR.
Now there may be good reasons why the second objective may not be easily tenable. Soil, weather and other conditions may simply mean that it’s not as suitable for agricultural purposes. However, if you’re willing to concede that, you really have to ask yourself if the same extremely rigorous standards in place for such a small portion of highly productive ALR land should be applied to the remainder, less productive ALR land.
Further to this point, and it’s one that’s been brought up before, in the South Cariboo, in a five-year period (2011 to 2016), there was a drastic drop in cattle and farms, according to Statistics Canada. The average age of ranchers/farmers is close to retirement and some have expressed that they’re struggling to find successors. This isn’t a problem restricted to the South Cariboo.
However, if you’re not going to make that problem your top priority (or at the very least put it at the forefront), putting heavy restrictions on the other 90 per cent of farmland, regardless of the specifics, is an exercise in futility, if not detrimental.