A lot more support for farming should be forthcoming from government in an agricultural community like Chilliwack.
That was the suggestion from some presenters when the Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food came to town this week.
In fact “government inaction” is harming B.C. agriculture, according to a release by the committee.
“Farmers, food producers, consumers, and industry representatives told us about some of the great work that’s happening in Chilliwack,” said committee chair Lana Popham. “But there are real problems, too.”
Topics like secession and access to farm lands, along with a need for extension services so young farmers can get help, came up during the all-day session.
Someone familiar with the inner working of the ag industry sat in the back and watched the proceedings. When it was his turn to make a presentation, he noted that B.C. offers the least support to farmers of almost all the provinces.
“It ironic really,” said committee member Robin Austin. “In B.C. we have the best land with the richest soil and the longest growing season, but with the least government support.”
It’s one thing to support protection of farm land, while it’s another to actually support farmers who are actively farming.
Several young farmers criticized the barriers facing newcomers, like getting access to land.
Climate issues were also front and centre.
“We’re looking at an exceptionally hot and dry summer,” said Austin.
“With drought conditions in the United States, we can’t expect them to carry on as the traditional source of produce they’ve been in the past. We need to be proactive about managing our water and protecting B.C. agriculture.”
Many British Columbians take water issues for granted, acting as if the normally rainy province is free of water problems.
“That’s a myth.”
As summers get hotter and dryer locally, recognition that “climate change is very real,” has to start, Austin said.
With so much of the fresh produce coming from drought-stricken California, something has to change so more can be produced locally, he added.
“People are really keen on local food. They recognize the value.”
Several presenters pointed out the need to do more to protect B.C.’s agricultural land reserve.
“People want to see our agricultural land safeguarded,” said committee vice chair Vicki Huntington. “One organic producer talked about his dream of a food secure city and a food secure B.C. It’s not impossible, but it means we have to preserve what we have and use it wisely. Our farmers and food producers need government support to do that.”
The government’s new ALR regulations were also brought up by the BC Agriculture Council. The BCAC said the regulations’ success will depend on the direction and priorities of the government. Another presenter described last year’s decision to separate the ALR into two zones as a “crack in the armour.”
Other topics included small business tax credits for agriculture, herdshare programs, the need for a long-term provincial agri-food strategy, as well as the erosion of a post-secondary agriculture program in B.C.
The committee has been to Chilliwack, Williams Lake and Courtenay and plans to hold open meetings in Vancouver, Kelowna, and Cranbrook before producing a report with recommendations this fall.