In an effort to protect farmland and farmers in B.C., the provincial government is dividing the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) into two zones, opening up much of the Interior’s farmland to more development. East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett and Minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson announced the changes on Thursday, March 28.
The changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve come as the province releases the results of its core review into how the current system operates. The ALR was created by the NDP in the early 70s to protect the province’s farmland from industrial and urban development.
Under the new system, Zone One, which will include the Lower mainland, Fraser Valley, Okanagan valley, and Vancouver Island, will see little change. Zone Two, which covers the Kootenays, the Interior, and the North, will see farmland protection rules loosened to allow for more non-farming activities on the land.
Bennett sees the changes as good news for the Elk Valley and the rest of the Kootenays, where the growing season is shorter and there are lower value crops.
“In zone two, we’ve added some additional criteria that the commission has to take into account when they’re dealing with an application. The additional criteria is that they have to take into account economic factors, community factors, and social factors,” he explained.
“Let’s say you’re in the Agricultural Land Reserve, but your land isn’t really any good for agriculture; you can’t use it for anything, you can’t subdivide it, or let a son or a daughter build a house on your 20 acre piece of land or your 40 acre piece of land, because you’re in the agricultural land reserve.
These new criteria will allow the commission to take into account factors like if it’s not good for agriculture, then why not let the son or daughter have five acres off the 20 acres and build a home there, subject of course to local government zoning.”
Another new change is formalizing the ALC’s existing model of size regions and six regional panels into law to strengthen regional decision making. Each panel will now be required to have a minimum of two members and a maximum of three.
“Right now the Kootenay panel only has one person on it and that’s not enough to come to a balanced decision about files,” said Bennett. “Those decisions actually in the last couple of years have ended up being made in Burnaby by bureaucrats at the Commission instead of people who live in the region. We’re putting a real focus on making decisions within the region, by the people from the region.”
Bennett believes the new system will only create more opportunities for local farmers.
“It gives famers more chances to use their land in a way that helps them stay on the land. That’s the big thing,” remarked Bennett. “The Agricultural Land Reserve has protected farmland over the years, but it hasn’t necessarily protected farmers. Government needs to have an Agricultural Land Commission that actually thinks about, ‘what can we do to enhance the business prospects of the small farmer or small rancher?’”
To further 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 appointing a CEO.