B.C. farmers and ranchers are expressing relief this week knowing their leadership is getting a chance to discuss how the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) could be threatened by Bill 24.
BC Agriculture Council members will be sitting down with the Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick next Wednesday to talk about the proposed changes.
“Nobody knows the importance and potential of ALR land more than B.C. farmers and ranchers,” said Stan Vander Waal, Chair of BC Agriculture Council, and owner of Rainbow Greenhouses in Chilliwack. “I am pleased that Minister Letnick is choosing to acknowledge this expertise.”
They’ll be asking the minister to either withdraw or amend the bill, as it poses “a threat to the sustainability of B.C. agriculture” in its current form, The Progress has learned.
The definition of Zones 1 and 2, which include the Fraser Valley and everything outside the valley respectively, is one aspect of concern.
“We feel the definitions are far too broad and do not protect areas with very good land from development pressure,” said Vander Waal.
Shifting the power to the regional panels has also raised a red flag.
“We think that delegating all decision-making authority to the local panels could effectively create six Agricultural Land Reserves,” he stated.
While having local input is critical, history has also shown that political and economic pressures locally can be waged to allow non-farm use on ag land.
“The panel can be significant in terms of its power and effectiveness to maintain good agricultural land.”
In terms of the allowance of non-farm uses, the BCAC chair said the question should be what the prime business is on that land, farm or non-farm based, and how will that be determined and monitored.
“There are many situations in urban areas where a farm exists only to legitimize non-agricultural use. So we’re very glad to be sitting down with the minister next Wednesday to talk about this,” Vander Waal added.
A steering committee to look at the Bill 24’s impacts, was struck jointly by the minister and BCAC.
“We intend to suggest that if the government truly wants to protect farm land and the farm, it will withdraw or amend the bill. They can do that through full engaging with the necessary sectors to make those changes.”
The committee comprises farmers and ranchers and other agriculture land stakeholders, who will help guide the discussion.
“As the new Minister of Agriculture, I’ve invited a committee determined by industry, to spend a day with me to go over the Bill in detail,” said Letnick in the BCAC press release. “The provincial government shares BCAC’s vision of supporting the growth of the agricultural sector in B.C. and those who work in it.
“I truly appreciate their perspective on this Bill and want to ensure I am hearing directly from them on any implications the changes we are proposing may have and any advice they might offer.”
Farmers and ranchers interested in adding their voice to the discussion with the Minister can contact their BCAC Director by messaging email@example.com.