VICTORIA - As we go about our busy lives, we often don’t think about where our food comes from, just that it’s there when we need it.
British Columbia is home to about 10% of Canada’s total number of farms: nearly 20,000 in all, some big and many small. Three-quarters of B.C. farms generate annual sales of less than $50,000.
It’s understandable then, why half our farming operators have off-farm jobs or businesses. One in four actually put in a 40 hour work-week elsewhere. At the same time, our average farmer’s age is 56 and only 6% are under 40.
These numbers clearly raise important questions, which we aimed to address through our recent core review looking at the Agricultural Land Commission, an independent tribunal setup in the 1970s.
We think it makes sense to look at all government operations from time to time to ensure they’re serving the people of B.C. the best way they can.
Back in the ‘70s, there was a recognition that farmland needed saving and farmers needed a helping hand. Forty years later, with many of the same concerns lingering, we continue to ask ourselves: how do we help farming families make a better living? How do we encourage younger people to get into agriculture? And, how do we grow more B.C. foods?
This week, we introduced legislation that helps tackle these important questions. Cognizant of the need to preserve fertile farm land, the Agricultural Land Commission will remain fully independent and fully in charge of land use decisions.
With 10% of the land inside the ALR generating 85% of total farm sales, clearly that land is invaluable. That’s why from this core review, that land, on the south coast, Okanagan and Island regions remains protected, as it was when the ALC was created. Nothing is changing.
We are, however, open to discussing with the ALC, agricultural sector and Union of British Columbia Municipalities whether regulations should be updated to help farmers grow their farm businesses. For example, some say the rules around processing what’s grown on the land restricts them from actually producing more food. We’re open to further conversation because we think this could be good for agriculture and food security.
In the other 90% of the ALR, which generates 15% of B.C.’s total agricultural sales, we’re giving the ALC more flexibility to consider non-agricultural home-based businesses that might help farmers subsidize their farming operations, by supplementing their income. The ALC will still have ultimate discretion, but we’re open to talking about this common sense approach to helping farmers, particularly in parts of B.C. with shorter growing seasons and where incomes generated off the land sometimes isn’t enough to cover the bills. Discussions around what’s potentially allowed will be up for discussion with the ALC, agricultural sector and UBCM later this year, as we look to develop regulations.
Despite introduction of legislation, much work remains. We believe these modest changes support the ALC in its role as independent decision maker and farmland protector, while helping farmers get ahead and making farming a more viable career option for future generations.
There’s a reason the ALC was created 40 years ago: people want to know the highly fertile farmland we have today, is going to be around tomorrow. Our proposed changes don’t just preserve the ALC’s independence for another 40 years, they also aim to preserve B.C.’s farming lifestyle.