Legislation introduced on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, makes it clear that land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) is for farming and ranching in British Columbia, not for dumping construction waste or building mega-mansions.
“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. “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.”
If passed, Bill 52, the agricultural land commission amendment act, 2018, will strengthen protections for B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve. The proposed legislation makes three key changes:
- Restoring the integrity of the ALR by 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.
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. 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.
“I am thrilled that the government is acting decisively to stem speculation on farmland,” said Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North. “The ALR is vital to our local food security and for realizing B.C.'s economic opportunities in the agricultural sector. I look forward to working further with government to find more ways to support B.C. farmers and protect our agricultural land.”
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.
“Agriculture drives prosperity in communities throughout B.C., and we are fortunate that 45 years ago the Province had the foresight to protect B.C.’s best and most capable agricultural land,” said Popham. “In an era where food security is a growing global issue, our legislative changes intend to protect ALR land for its highest and best use – agricultural production.”
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.
Stan Vander Waal, president, BC Agriculture Council –
“BC Agriculture Council is pleased that the ministry continues working with us to ensure farmland is available for farmers to farm and believes the proposed changes will continue to strengthen the Agricultural Land Reserve. We are happy to see the return to one zone and trust that future administrative changes to the Agricultural Land Commission will continue to be reviewed with BC Agriculture Council, which understands the unique needs of farmers and ranchers in B.C.”
Kevin Boon, general manager, BC Cattlemen’s Association –
“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. The proposed changes should help the ALC better manage those goals.”
Jennifer Dyson, chair, Agricultural Land Commission –
“Mega-homes and lifestyle estates preclude land from being used by agriculture ever again. 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.”
Lin and Oliver Egan, Edible Acres Farm, Windermere –
“Farming and local food security are important everywhere in British Columbia. Having one zone in the Agriculture Land Reserve, with the same rules in place for all the land within in it, is essential for the future of small-scale diversified farming. We believe this will allow for a more local, sustainable food system moving forward. We ourselves produce over 55 varieties of fruits and vegetables here in the East Kootenay region, which is proof that good quality farmland is precious wherever it is and deserves equal protection.”
Chris Thoreau, BC seed security program director, FarmFolk CityFolk –
“People don't realize that the damage caused when they accept illegal waste on their farmland is forever and lasts long after the money they've been paid for the fill has been spent. The dumping of construction waste in the ALR has been destroying farmland in the Lower Mainland since the housing boom, and it is really good news to hear that there are actually going to be penalties that mean something.”
- 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% 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% of the land in the ALR produces 85% of B.C.'s farm receipts, and 3% of ALR land in the South Coast region produces 65% of the province's farm receipts.
Track the progress of the legislation:
Agricultural Land Commission: https://www.alc.gov.bc.ca/alc/content/home
Revitalization of ALR public engagement site: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/govtogetherbc/consultation/agricultural-land-reserve/
A backgrounder follows.