By Lyonel Doherty
Little by little, piece by piece, our agricultural land is being whittled away in B.C.
And it’s evident to see sometimes when you’re driving through the valley, where mansions sit on ALR properties with a handful of hens in the yard.
These property owners are getting the benefits of farm status but aren’t really growing much food, if any. How did this happen? That’s what a lot of people would like to know.
Not surprisingly, an independent committee has made recommendations to the Ministry of Agriculture on how to revitalize the ALR and the commission that governs it. The committee, after talking to stakeholders, has serious concerns about the continued erosion of agricultural land due to speculators and investors. This is pushing the cost of land out of reach for legitimate farmers.
There is also the debate whether agricultural land should be used for the production of cannabis, which many entrepreneurs are eying with dollar signs floating around in their heads.
Many people feel that farmland should not be used to grow marijuana, regardless of its medicinal properties. Save the farmland for food production, especially since these areas are disappearing.
The other concern being expressed is that cities and towns have too much influence on ALR decisions, and that each municipality is doing something different. They should be following the same rules to preserve this crucial resource.
But BC Tree Fruits director Nirmal Dhaliwal brings up a good point: how can we protect agricultural land if we don’t protect the people who farm it? Many growers are struggling to make a decent living off the land because of inadequate protection programs when losses are suffered. Shouldn’t this be addressed first before we address ALR preservation?
Interesting to note is the regional district’s latest, so-called “non-farm use” application in rural Osoyoos. The property owners want to provide a packing and sorting facility for local growers impacted by last year’s closure of BC Tree Fruits’ packinghouse.
It’s considered a non-farm use because more than 50 per cent of the products will originate off site. They say there will be no expansion of facilities because they already exist, and the use will be strictly farm related because of the intended purpose (fruit packing). While most of the fruit will come from other growers, the bottom line it’s for the greater good of agriculture. No speculators here.
Since the closure of the packinghouse, Osoyoos growers are responsible for transporting their fruit to the Oliver plant, which is a financial burden to some. So this application gives them an alternative, a “non-farm use” that we can support.