Changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve are generating a range of concerns and questions.
The provincial government is breaking the ALR into two zones. Zone one would include the Okanagan and non-farm uses would not be allowed, but in zone two (the rest of the Interior and the north), uses other than farming could be permitted.
“I see this as an attempt to weaken the Agricultural Land Commission and get at some of the high-value lands,” said Paul Christie, a Coldstream agrology consultant.
Christie believes that once property owners in the north can proceed with non-farm uses, Okanagan farmers will pressure Victoria for equity.
“People are rightly concerned about what the ulterior motives are and time will tell,” he said.
Under the new model, value-added uses such as food processing could be allowed on ALR in the Okanagan.
“I wrestle with protecting soil for agriculture and then covering the soil for agricultural uses,” said Christie.
“We want to encourage farmers to diversify, such as agri-tourism, but what do we do about those who want to move out of a true farm use? It’s a slippery slope?”
It’s unknown if valued-added activities would include large buildings, such as greenhouses.
“We will have to know what the regulations say until we know what the impact is,” said Rob Smailes, Regional District of North Okanagan planning and building general manager.
Also keeping an eye on the definition of value-added is Kevin Poole, Vernon’s economic development manager.
“This may lead to some new opportunities as the agricultural sector, especially in terms of economic development, has been identified as a priority by the regional district,” he said.
Jackie Pearase, rural Enderby director, finds the push for value-added activities contradicts the government’s meat processing rules.
“Perhaps it will allow farmers to do what they have been asking for, like butchering and selling their own meat,” said Pearase, who suggests the ALC changes are being influenced by other forces.
“It is interesting that a large part of that low-value farm land happens to be up north, which is of very high value as an area for future economic development of liquid natural gas and a pipeline, neither of which would easily fit into the ALC criteria.”
Support for the ALC plan, though, is coming from Rick Fairbairn, RDNO chairperson.
“It not only protects the ALR for future generations but more importantly, it implements policies for farmers to operate in a more viable environment and if we can do that, that’s a big step,” he said.
The ALR changes were part of a government core review.
“These improvements are aimed at continuing to protect B.C.’s rich farm land and helping farmers make a better living from it,” said Pat Pimm, agriculture minister.
“The changes ensure the ALC is able to protect our fertile agricultural land for another 40 years, while ensuring future generations of farmers can continue to produce food for B.C. families.”