Agricultural Land Reserve going back to one zone

The two-zone Agricultural Land Reserve is out as the province is moving to restore one zone across the province.

The Liberal changes saw the province split into two agricultural zones. Prime farmland in the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and Okanagan saw little change, but farmland in much of B.C.’s Interior saw restrictions loosened to allow for more non-farming activities like oil and gas development.

“The old government let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland out of reach for young farmers and allowed some of our most valuable agricultural land to be damaged,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, in a news release. “We are protecting farmland in B.C. to ensure land is available now and for future generations of farmers, so people in British Columbia have a safe, secure supply of locally grown food on their tables for years to come.”

The proposed legislation makes three key changes:

* Reinstating one zone for all ALR land in B.C., making it clear that all land in the ALR benefits from the same strong protections.

* Addressing mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR by limiting new house sizes to less than 500 square metres [about 5,400 square feet], except through application to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) in cases where it would support farming; and requiring an ALC approval of any additional residences in the ALR to curb non-farm development.

* Cracking down on the dumping of construction debris, toxic waste and other fill in the ALR that can irreparably damage arable soil on valuable farmland, through increased penalties.

“Mega-homes and lifestyle estates preclude land from being used by agriculture ever again,” said Jennifer Dyson, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission. “These large-scale residences for non-farmers impede agriculture, drive speculation and further erode the land base. A farmer will not be able to afford to purchase these properties with the value of just the home in the millions.”

The legislative changes will help stop damaging practices that contaminate farmland and make farms unaffordable for new farmers, and threaten the short-term and long-term viability of the ALR, according to the government. They are designed to protect the province’s farmland so British Columbians can access locally grown food, and communities and local economies can prosper through farming, ranching and agriculture businesses, such as B.C.’s growing food-processing sector.

“In order for the ALR to function as it was intended to, it is important that the priority be to preserve the land as much as possible for food production while protecting the rights and profitability of those who are producing the food,” said Kevin Boon, general manager of the BC Cattlemen’s Association. “The proposed changes should help the ALC better manage those goals.”

The bill is part of the government’s ongoing commitment to revitalize the ALR and the ALC. The new legislation will advance several recommendations in the independent report released by the Minister of Agriculture’s Advisory Committee.

The ALR was established in 1973 to protect land with prime agricultural conditions for farming and ranching. It currently protects approximately 4.6 million hectares of agriculturally suitable land in British Columbia. The ALR is administered by the ALC, an independent tribunal mandated to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming on agricultural land.

The ALR includes over 4.7 million hectares of B.C. that are preserved for agricultural use, less than 5% of B.C.’s total land base.

B.C. farmers produce 48% of the food British Columbians consume, according to B.C.’s Food Self-Reliance report (2007).

Farm cash receipts were $3.2 billion in 2017, up by 4 per cent over the previous year.

More than 22,000 people earn their livelihood directly from the primary agriculture sector.

Land in the ALR falls into one of seven soil classes, ranging from Class 1 (wide range of crops can be grown without difficulty) to Class 7 (unsuitable for soil-based agriculture or sustained grazing, suitable for barns, greenhouses and processing facilities).

Currently, 10 per cent of the land in the ALR produces 85 per cent of B.C.’s farm receipts, and three per cent of ALR land in the South Coast region produces 65 per cent of the province’s farm receipts.