Immediate changes to legislation governing the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) are needed so the land can fulfill its primary purpose of promoting agriculture, according to a new report presented to the B.C. Minister of Agriculture.
The report, prepared by the Minister’s Advisory Committee for Revitalizing the ALR and the Agricultural Land Commission, said there is an “urgent need” to make changes that will focus on shifting to an “‘agriculture-first’ priority focus” to preserve farmland and support farming and ranching in B.C.
“The committee is of the opinion that unless the province raises the profile of agricultural land and agriculture across all provincial agencies, an erosion of the ALR and a decline of B.C.’s agriculture industry is likely to continue,” the report said.
“An across-government policy shift that perceives agriculture as a sustainable resource industry is critical.”
The committee made several recommendations for changes to legislation and regulations and steps to take to protect the ALR.
These recommendations include taking steps to limit housing developments on the land and cut down on speculation.
The committee also recommends the reinstatement of a one-zone system, putting the focus back onto farming.
The ALR was split into two zones in 2014. Zone one, which focuses on farming, is comprised of 353,000 hectares. At 2,072,000 hectares, zone two is considerably larger, and less focused on farming and allows for “other economic activities and non-farm considerations to be on par with – and in some cases to supersede – agriculture.”
“It is important to emphasize that lands in zone 2 are some of the best agriculturally capable soil in the province, and large areas that may be viewed as lower quality are the best lands for extensive ranching activities,” the report said. “Reinstating a single zone will provide a strong, stable and consistent legislative and administrative framework for governance across the ALR at a time of significant and rapidly growing pressures and challenges.
“It will support more consistent and equitable agricultural land use and ensure agriculture remains the central focus of decision-making in the ALR.”
The full report can be found here.