BC’s farmland too scarce to lose, says NFU

(February 4, 2014, Victoria, BC)—The National Farmers Union (NFU) calls on the BC government to maintain the independent, quasi-judicial mandate of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) as administrator of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) so that scarce farmland will continue to be protected. A Provincial Auditor’s 2010 report underscored the “fundamental importance of preserving agricultural land … given the uncertain effects of climate change on our food imports and our agricultural systems.”

The NFU further expects that a thorough, transparent public consultation process about proposed changes will be completed and that the recommendations arising will inform any modification to either the ALC or the ALR. 

The NFU stands in solidarity with B.C. citizens, farmers and organizations in recognizing the importance of safeguarding BC’s scarce farmland, as per a resolution (see below) passed at its Annual National Convention in November 2013. The organization sees the ALC and ALR as a model of farmland protection worthy of replication elsewhere.

The NFU is concerned that the BC government is considering changes to both the ALC and the ALR that would weaken the protection of farmland in BC. Recent reports indicate that elements within the BC government are looking to move responsibility for the ALC to the Ministry of Agriculture, and to give the Oil and Gas Commission more power over land use decisions. 

Peter Eggers, NFU Board member and Coordinator for the BC/Peace region, is alarmed that the BC government appears to be willing to compromise BC’s scarce farmland in the pursuit of short-term profit. “Mining, oil and gas, hydro dams and real estate developments muster enormous economic power that can chip away at the essentials of the ALR if it is not firmly guarded by an independent ALC,” stated Eggers.

Dan Ferguson, direct marketer and NFU Board member from Duncan, gave an example of the government’s apparent eagerness to proceed with development in the ALR. The ALC rejected a request to remove 70 acres of highly rated agricultural land from the ALR to be used to develop rodeo facilities. Minister of Agriculture Pat Pimm interfered and provided support that assured the unapproved development went ahead anyway. “The government is also pushing forward the Site C dam project in the Peace River region, which would inundate 5,116 hectares of high-quality farm land,” stated Ferguson. “If allowed, Site C would represent the single largest exclusion of farmland in the forty years the ALR has been in place. 

The ALR provides British Columbians with valuable benefits such as ecological services, protection against urban sprawl, thousands of jobs in the agriculture sector, and greater opportunity for direct market sales, which more than doubled to $113 million between 2006 and 2012. “The ALR is critical to strengthening food sovereignty and ensuring that food is produced close to urban areas, as well as to mitigating the rising cost of farm land,” stated Ferguson.

New and young farmers see the ALR as key to protecting access to land and ensuring its affordability so they can start farming. “As young farmers in southwestern BC, we consider the ALR to be crucial to ensure that a new generation of BC farmers have the chance to access land and make a living farming,” said Alex Fletcher, NFU Youth President and a market gardener near Victoria. Fletcher stated the NFU’s full endorsement of the rally to be held at the BC legislature in Victoria on February 10th in support of maintaining the ALR and the ALC as the independent quasi-judicial administrator of the ALR.

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For more information:

Alex Fletcher, NFU Youth President:                             C:  (250) 661-8099
Dan Ferguson, NFU Board member:                              P:  (250) 746-3970; C: (250) 709-9183
Peter Eggers, NFU Coordinator, R8 (BC/Peace region):   P:  (780) 568-3805; C: (780) 518-2289
Jan Slomp, NFU President:                                           P:  (403) 843-2068; C: (403) 704-4364       

        

       RESOLUTION:  Passed at the National Farmers Union Annual National Convention

     November 28-30, 2013, Ottawa

British Columbia Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR)

WHEREASthe Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was set up to protect viable farm land in BC and,

WHEREASthe current provincial government has initiated a process to dismantle or weaken the ALR and allow agricultural land to be further developed and mined,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the NFU publicly acknowledge the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is a model that should be replicated across Canada and maintained and strengthened in BC.