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Improvements to ALC protect farmland, support farmers

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Improvements to ALC protect farmland, support farmers
Economy, Environment, Families Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:25 AM


VICTORIA - Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review and Steve Thomson, Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, on behalf of Pat Pimm, Minister of Agriculture, today announced  improvements to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that will protect farmland in British Columbia and maintain the ALC’s independence.

British Columbians expect government to ensure our programs and services are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible. The changes, resulting from government’s Core Review of the Commission will help farmers and farm families get ahead by recognizing regional differences, strengthening regional decision making and enhancing the ALC’s service to the public. 

The ALC will remain a fully independent tribunal and decision-maker and continue to make final decisions on specific land uses within the Agricultural Land Reserve.

The improvements include the creation of two ALC administered zones to better recognize the province’s regional differences. In Zone 1, where land is in greater demand and there are development and population pressures, ALC decisions will continue to be made on the basis of the original principle of preserving agricultural land. In Zone 2, where growing seasons are shorter and there are lower value crops, ALC decisions will now, in addition to the original principle, include additional considerations to provide farmers with more flexibility to support their farming operations.

Other improvements include formalizing the ALC’s existing model of six regions and six regional panels into law to strengthen regional decision making as well as giving local governments the opportunity to engage with the ALC earlier in their land use planning processes to ensure better coordination and more timely decisions.

To improve services to farmers, the Commission’s operations will be enhanced. This will include establishing governance and accountability frameworks and service standards, consistent with other government boards, agencies and commissions as well as filling staff vacancies and moving forward with the appointment of a CEO.

To help farmers generate increased incomes and better support food production, the Ministry of Agriculture will initiate discussions with the ALC, the agricultural sector and the Union of BC Municipalities on how to best support new opportunities for limited, value-added farming activities on farmland.

Quotes:

Pat Pimm, Minister of Agriculture -

“These improvements are aimed at continuing to protect B.C.'s rich farmland and helping farmers make a better living from it. 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.”

Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines and Minister Responsible for Core Review -

“From time to time, we need to look at organizations like the ALC, to make sure as an organization, it is serving the people of B.C. the best it can. These improvements achieve our goals of supporting the ALC in its role as independent decision maker, protecting our high quality farmland and still supporting farmers to get ahead.”

Rhonda Driediger, chair, BC Agriculture Council -

“Opportunities exist to improve the ALR and to protect farmland for future generations. Long-term positive change requires broad consultation with B.C. farmers. We look forward to openly engaging with the Province as new regulations are developed.”

Fred Steele, president, BC Fruit Growers Association -

“The BCFGA understands changes must be made to the ALR in order to provide sustainable and profitability for the tree fruit industry. To ensure these changes benefit tree fruit growers and all farmers, we are prepared to engage in positive discussions with the Province to ensure regulations benefit the farm industry and protect farmland in British Columbia.”

David Haywood-Farmer, president, BC Cattlemen’s Association -

“BC Cattlemen’s Association recognizes the complexity of the issues surrounding the ALR and those affected by it. We are encouraged that the Minister understands that the ALC must remain an independent decision making commission whose purpose is to protect agricultural lands and the stakeholders who make their living producing food from this land. Our goal is to see the improvement of the ALR for the present generation of ranching families who are responsible for the stewardship of these lands and for future generations who need to see that there is hope for a sustainable future on these lands.”

Garnet Berge, committee chair, BC Grain Producers Association -

“We are pleased that our Agriculture Minister Pat Pimm has responded to the concerns of the Agriculture sector to modernize the BC Agricultural Land Commission. We support the proposed changes and are looking forward to working with our BC Government and Agricultural Minister to draft new regulations and the forming of administrative panels in our region.”

Linda Delli Santi, executive director, BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association -

“The BC Greenhouse Growers’ Association supports the government’s core review objective of modernizing the Agricultural Land Commission and looks forward to the results of the consultations to create the details in regulations.”

A backgrounder and factsheet follow.

Media Contacts:

Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Agriculture
250 356-1674


BACKGROUNDER

Changes resulting from government’s Core Review of the Commission

Government has announced improvements to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) that will protect farmland in British Columbia and maintain the ALC’s independence. The changes, resulting from government’s Core Review of the Commission will include:

  1. Increase opportunities for farmers to earn a living and continue farming their land:
    • In consultation with the ALC, B.C.’s agricultural industry and the Union of BC Municipalities, amendments will be considered to current regulations to allow new, limited, value-added farming activities, such as food processing, on farmland. This responds to concerns from farmers that regulations prevent them from growing their agricultural businesses.
    • The ALC will continue to make final decisions on specific land uses.
    • The creation of two zones will better protect in-demand land in Zone 1, which will remain status-quo, while offering the ALC more flexibility in its decision making in Zone 2. The ALC will continue to apply its discretion in making final decisions on specific land uses.
    • To better support farmers and farm families and ensure they can continue farming their land, in Zone 2 only, the ALC will be given broader flexibility to consider non-agricultural home-based businesses. Acceptable uses will be determined through regulation in consultation with the ALC, the agricultural sector and UBCM.
    • This flexibility responds to concerns from farmers in certain parts of the province, where growing seasons are shorter and farmers need year-round income to support their farming operations.
  2. Recognize B.C.’s regional differences to better support farming families:
    • The ALC’s existing model of six regions and six regional panels will be formalized, with regional panels making decisions for their specific regions.
    • Two ALC-administered zones will be established:
      • Zone 1 will include the Island, South Coast and Okanagan panel regions.
      • Zone 2 will include the Interior, Kootenay and North panel regions.
      • The ALC’s role of protecting land in both regions does not change.
  3. Improve land use planning coordination with local government:
    • Local governments will be required to engage the ALC earlier in land use planning processes, such as Official Community Plans.
    • Currently the ALC is engaged after first reading. Going forward, they will be engaged before the bylaw reaches first reading. It is anticipated that communities will achieve more timely and efficient decisions from better coordination.
  4. Modernize the Commission’s operations:
    • The ALC will move forward with filling staff vacancies, including the appointment of a CEO through a merit-based hiring process.
    • Governance and accountability frameworks will be established for the ALC, in line with other government agencies, boards and commissions.
    • Service standards will be developed and implemented. For example, applicants will be provided with anticipated timelines for decisions and applicants will be provided with the opportunity to attend hearings where their applications are being determined and make a presentation.
    • The Commission will be required to report out publicly on their service standard performance measures and all records of decision.

Media Contacts:

Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Agriculture
250 356-1674


FACTSHEET

Agriculture in B.C.

The Agricultural Land Commission and Reserve

The Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) is an independent, administrative tribunal. The ALC makes land use decisions within the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR).  The ALC looks at many factors when carrying out its mandate and each application has its own distinct set of circumstances and is considered on its own merits.

  • About 5% of British Columbia’s land base (4.7 million hectares) is in the ALR. The land in the ALR has increased by 38,000 hectares since 2001.
  • 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% of the land in the ALR produces 85% of B.C.’s farm cash receipts (FCR) and the three percent of the land in the South Coast region produces two-thirds of the province’s FCR.
  • By Agricultural Land Reserve region:
  • Island region - 2% of ALR, 6% of FCR
  • South Coast region - 3% of ALR, 65% of FCR
  • Okanagan region - 5% of ALR, 14% of FCR
  • Kootenay region - 8% of ALR, 2.5% of FCR
  • Interior region - 31% of ALR, 4.5% of FCR
  • North region - 50% of ALR, 8% of FCR

Support for the Agricultural Land Commission

  • This year, the B.C. government is providing the ALC with about $3.5 million in annual operating funding, an increase of $600,000 from 2013/14.
  • This is the second consecutive year the Commission’s budget has increased, to support the ALC in providing increased oversight of the ALR.
  • The Agricultural Land Commission’s annual budget allocation:
    • 2012-13 - $1.9 million
    • 2013-14 - $2.9 million
    • 2014-15 - $3.5 million
  • The budget increases, first announced in Budget 2013, enable the ALC to:
    • continue with the East Kootenay boundary review and undertake other targeted reviews (6 to 10 years to complete all reviews);
    • increase compliance and enforcement activities throughout the province and build partnerships with local governments and provincial ministries;   
    • pursue more proactive planning work with local governments;
    • work more closely with farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming; and
    • continue digital conversion and mapping projects started with transitional funding, to improve its ability to evaluate the collective impacts of decisions on applications.
  • The new funding in is in addition to one-time funding of $1.6 million provided in 2011, as part of a package of measures to strengthen the ALC’s capacity to focus on preserving farmland, increasing enforcement and evolving into a sustainable organization.
  • In addition to the funding, legislation introduced in 2011 also allows the ALC to increase enforcement capacity by allowing qualified provincial and local government officials to conduct enforcement activities.

Farming demographics

  • According to Statistics Canada, almost half (49%) of B.C. farms have annual sales less than $10,000 and three quarters (75%) have annual sales less than $50,000.
  • In 2010, 52.6% of all British Columbia farm operators had an off-farm job or business.
  • More than 25% of all B.C. farm operators report working off-the-farm for more than 40 hours a week.
  • In 2011, the average age of a B.C. farm operator was 55.7 years old.
  • In 2011, 61.6% of B.C. farms had operators aged 55 years or older, the highest proportion in the country. At the same time, 6.4% of B.C. farm operators were under 40, the lowest percentage in Canada.
  • The proportion of B.C. farms with an operator aged 55+ has increased by more than 20% between 1991 and 2011.
  • B.C.’s 19,750 farms account for approximately 9.6% of Canada’s total farms.

Media Contacts:

Government Communications and Public Engagement
Ministry of Agriculture
250 356-1674

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