been waiting to exhale – says Brent Mansfield, Director of the
BC Food Systems Network,
which represents hundreds of food growers and food security advocates
He is referring to the
recently announced changes to regulations under the Agricultural Land
Commission Act, which have been pending for nine months.
The Act itself went through significant change in May 2014, over
widespread public opposition. The Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) was
divided into two zones and changes were made to the ALC's
decision-making criteria and structure: six regional panels replaced a
single provincial Commission.
Then, in July and August 2014, the provincial government consulted with
selected stakeholders on about 11 proposed regulatory changes related to
activities that could be allowed on farmland without involvement of the
“We were very concerned
about some of the government’s proposals which would have opened up ALR
land to significant abuse, bypassing the ALC,” says Mansfield. “We are
relieved that the most threatening proposals were not adopted and that
the Minister heeded concerns raised by stakeholders.”
The new regulations encourage value-adding activities by co-ops and
apply the same rules as wineries to breweries, distilleries and
meaderies. They will allow landowners to lease portions of their land
for agricultural production, and in Zone 2 they introduce, with
conditions, life-term leases for retiring farmers, and second
single-family dwellings for family or rental income.
Mansfield goes on to say that, “we recognize several of these provisions
as good ideas in principle. However we have some outstanding concerns
about the leasing options and the second dwelling option, since there
will be no supervision from the ALC.
We question how and by whom
the regulatory conditions will be applied. Could all these provisions
apply on one property? If so, how many residences will be possible on a
farm? How will impacts on farming be monitored? Will there be any
follow-up if there are problems?
“Overall,” says Mansfield “especially given the changes to the Act, we
remain very concerned about the direction in which BC farmland
protection policy is going. Six regional panels are more susceptible
than a single Commission to local development pressures. The two zones
and additional decision-making criteria all point to a loosening of
oversight and protection of BC’s farmland. The issue of enforcement has
not been re-visited.
Finally, the abrupt firing in May of ALC Chair Richard Bullock, six
months before the end of his term, increases our unease. Mr Bullock
followed the ALC’s mandate and did the job expected of him by the public
– protecting farmland with a view to BC’s future farmland and food
needs. We will have to wait and see how the legislative and regulatory
changes to the ALC play out.”
Trust of farmers and protection of farmland for farming are values
esteemed highly by BC citizens, as shown in a September 2014 public
poll issued by the Real Estate Foundation and Vancouver Foundation.
Farming, growing food and natural freshwater systems rated top priority
for land use; loss or development of farmland as top agricultural issue;
and reliance on BC food as top food concern. A full 95% of respondents
support or strongly support the ALR to preserve BC’s farmland.
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