The Agricultural Land Reserve is about “preserving” farmers and farm families for B.C.’s future — not just the preservation of farm land, said Stan Vander Waal, chair of the British Columbia Agriculture Council.
The BCAC head and owner of Rainbow Greenhouses in Chilliwack was reacting to proposed amendments put forth recently for Bill 24, the Agricultural Land Commission Act.
Steps to engage the council’s leadership in the development of Bill 24 rules and practices was “a step forward” made by the new Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick, noted Vander Waal, one “reflective of the new minister’s recent efforts on behalf of agriculture.”
BCAC Directors and its membership played a key role in the consultation that led to the minister’s announcement.
“The BCAC ALR Steering Committee was directly involved in the amendments made to Bill 24,” said Vander Waal. “We feel good about having had some input.”
Unfortunately, the farmers didn’t get everything they asked for, he noted.
The provincial government still wants to divide the ALR into two zones, with the entire Fraser Valley as zone 1, and the rest of the province as zone 2. The BCAC wanted to keep it to a one-zone system.
“Although government is moving forward with amendments to the proposed bill, BCAC remains firmly opposed to two zones.”
A one-zone system would provide “reasonable opportunities” for regional representatives to consider community need, he said.
BCAC, representing about 14,000 B.C. farmers and ranchers, obtained two significant commitments from the minister. One was direct engagement in the rules and regulation process, along with the idea to formally engage a working group to explore the feasibility of adopting an overall “net benefit” to agriculture policy for decisions relating to the ALR.
“BCAC has always been committed to preserving agriculture land, but we are also committed to preserving farmers.
“If enjoying locally grown and raised goods is truly important to British Columbians, we need to find ways to support economically sustainable farming and attract youth into agriculture,” added Vander Waal.
The proposed changes are the upshot of whirlwind meetings with the ag sector, said Minister Letnick in a statement: “The amendments allow the ALC chair or regional panel to refer applications to the ALC’s executive committee, if the chair determines that a decision could have substantial impact on the ALR.
“Bill 24 also is being amended to clearly outline, in priority order, the criteria the commission must consider in all land-use decisions in zone 2 (North, Interior and Kootenay).
“This priority list will begin with whether the ALC considers the proposal to meet with the purposes of the commission, namely the preservation of agricultural land, encouraging farming and enabling farm use on agricultural land. All other factors would follow in descending order of priority.
“This change is intended to confirm the ALC’s priority remains preserving farming and ensuring panels make decisions in the best interests of agriculture,” said Letnick.