Agricultural Land Commission won’t accept farm cash for ALR land removal: Leonard

Agricultural Land Commission chairman Frank Leonard | Photo: Bruce Stotesbury, Times Colonist

The Agricultural Land Commission won’t consider cash contributions toward farm projects as lubricant for removing land from its reserve.

In a letter dated June 19, chairman Frank Leonard responded to a request from the City of Langford to discuss its vision for a new agricultural strategy.

The strategy could ease the removal of properties deemed unproductive from the Agricultural Land Reserve, by collecting cash contributions toward a new agriculture fund. There would be a net benefit to agriculture, the argument goes, even if it means property intended for agricultural use is developed instead.

“There are concerns that such a narrowly focused discussion may lead to expectations ... that the ALC will be making decisions on ALR exclusion application in Langford on the basis of the strategy,” Leonard wrote.

“While considerations related to amenity contributions may be of interest to the city, such matters would not form part of ALC considerations.”

Coun. Lillian Szpak, who asked the commission for a meeting to discuss the strategy as acting mayor in March, said she is not discouraged.

She’s looking forward to finally sitting down with someone from the commission, which Leonard also recommended in the letter.

“We’re basically knocking at their door with a new approach that we think supports the values and aims of the ALC, at the end of the day,” she said.

“We want to continue to farm on our arable land and support our farmers there. This is going to take some consideration and we don’t expect change overnight.”

C&F Land Resource Consultants, which reviewed properties in South Langford for the municipality in 2007, has proposed that 46 hectares should be removed from the ALR, while 48 hectares should be retained.

It estimates that if all 46 hectares were excluded, which would involve 57 properties, about $1.5 million in net surplus could be collected to support urban agriculture projects on productive land.

But critics called the strategy short-sighted.

Linda Geggie, director of the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable, said an agriculture fund is a fine idea, but it shouldn’t depend on the removal of land from the ALR.

“I don’t really see why the need to take these lands out, in order to do that,” Geggie said.

“I commend them for wanting to take new approaches and strategies, but there are other strategies to consider.”

Geggie said agricultural land is vital to food security, as population pressures increase. But every time a piece of land is taken out of the ALR, it increases interest from developers.

“People see it as land-in-waiting,” she said.

Deborah Curran, Hakai professor of environmental law and sustainability at the University of Victoria, said it can be appropriate to remove land from the ALR when the soil is very poor.

But just because land isn’t “productive” now, doesn’t mean it lacks potential.

Many properties covered in trees have high-quality soil or could host greenhouses and other agro-projects.

“It’s important to understand, when you’re talking about agricultural land, that it’s not like you can just go find more when you need it,” Curran said.

“It’s a non-renewable resource and we have less than four per cent in this designation in B.C. We have to treat it very carefully.”

Land is prohibitively expensive for young farmers in B.C., she said. Prices are based on urban demand, rather than agricultural value.

One answer is a model where agricultural land is kept in a trust and leased to farmers on a long-term basis at affordable rates.

Bea McKenzie, one of Langford’s few active farmers, said she supports the protection of farmland in the municipality, even though her own property lies outside the ALR.

“I really believe we need all of what we’ve got,” she said.

“I can maybe understand there are some properties that are easier than others to remove, but that means the municipality needs to find more land to replace what was taken out.”

Langford will discuss four applications from property owners to leave the ALR at a special meeting today at 10:15 a.m. Three of the properties host single-family homes, while the fourth is the Happy Valley Lavender and Herb Farm.

All of the properties are in the Happy Valley and Latoria Road area.

Times Colonist