The B.C. government is taking steps to enhance and strengthen the Agricultural Land Commission and, in turn, protect the province’s agricultural land.
Increased enforcement for violations, increased funding and a five-year moratorium on repeat applications to remove land from the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) are some of the ways in which the province hopes to help the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) become “more proactive in their work with local governments to encourage agriculture in their land use plans, bylaws and policies” while promoting agriculture, farm diversification and value-added processing in their communities.
This is something Deep Creek Farmers Institute director Lorne Hunter fully endorses.
“If this call from the ALC to make these applications better by having agriculture more involved in the municipal land use planning, I think that’s a very strong positive for agriculture,” says Hunter.
Salmon Arm Farmers Institute member John McLeod is on the same page, particularly the moratorium, intended to help the ALC deal with a backlog of some 1,000 applications, the majority of which are not from farmers, but from land developers.
“I think it’s excellent because, typically, what happens is people just pester and pester until finally people just cave in on it,” says McLeod.
Salmon Arm’s development services director, Corey Paiement doesn’t expect this will have any impact on an agreement the city has with the ALC for the possible removal of agricultural lands in the upper Lakeshore and Hillcrest areas. Paiement couldn’t say if any other applications might be impacted, adding he would need more information.
The ALC is to receive an additional $1.6 million in total between 2011 and 2013 to help the organization develop a more self-sustaining model. One way of doing this is by allowing the ALC to charge service fees.
These measures answer some of the concerns raised in a Review of the Agricultural Land Commission, released in Nov. 2010 by provincial ALC chair Richard Bullock. In the review, Bullock notes that the ALC is extremely challenged in meeting its mandate.
“After nearly 40 years, I believe the ALR should be looked upon as a solid foundation for the business of agriculture in B.C.,” writes Bullock. “Regrettably, however, the foundation has suffered erosion to the land base and loss of support from bona fide farmers and ranchers – but thankfully not to a point that it is irreparable. Continued government, support and adequate funding and resources, will allow the ALC to meet its challenges.”
Among Bullock’s recommendations is that the ALC have defensible boundaries, that it is able to respond to and enforce improper use of ALR land, and that it evolves into a proactive organization, as opposed to reactive and focused on applications.
Regarding local government involvement in promoting agriculture, both McLeod and Hunter look to the City of Salmon Arm, which is in the process of putting together an agricultural committee for 2012 that they hope will be regional in scope (with regional representation). Hunter argues such a body is warranted given the diversity and scope of agriculture in the region.
“It’s a huge economic base that we provide, not just in the employment that we provide directly through the farm, but all the businesses that we employ and make use of their services in the production of food is enormous,” says Hunter. “A stronger voice can not only protect agriculture, but also protect agriculture by dealing with the issues that are restricting agriculture, and providing information to the local public of all the good things that we do do, all the good things that we provide.”