By Lyonel Doherty
The president of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association likes what he sees when looking at Bill 52, the government’s new legislation protecting farmland.
Pinder Dhaliwal, who farms in Oliver, reacted to the Ministry of Agriculture’s new bill that makes it clear that land in the Agricultural Land Reserve is for farming and ranching, not for building mega-mansions and dumping construction waste.
“The BCFGA supports the ALR and wants to make sure that farmland is maximized,” he said.
Speaking to the bill, Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said the previous government let wealthy speculators drive the price of farmland out of reach of young farmers and allowed valuable agricultural land to be damaged.
If passed, Bill 52 will limit new house sizes to less than 500 square metres (5,400 square feet) except through special application where a larger house would support farming.
Dhaliwal said many families in the Indo-Canadian community live together in one home.
“We’ve got to make sure at the end of the day that real farmers don’t get punished by building a nice house.”
But Dhaliwal acknowledged there are people (non-farmers) who build large homes in the ALR. He said some of these 15 to 20-acre properties have roundabouts in the front yard, a pool and basketball court and only a few fruit trees, horses or chickens. It’s these situations that the BCFGA is trying to curtail, he noted.
However, Dhaliwal said these types of homes are more prevalent in the Kelowna area and the Lower Mainland, not in Oliver and Osoyoos where most homes utilize every inch of space for vineyards and fruit trees.
Dhaliwal said when people build these mega-mansions on farmland, it drives up land prices very quickly. That’s why it’s important for the government to do something so that bonafide farmers don’t get hurt, he stated.
While you don’t see a lot of waste dumping in this area, Dhaliwal said increasing the penalties to stop this behaviour is only fair.
“We don’t want to contaminate our fertile soil.”
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Bill 52 also requires permission from the Agricultural Land Commission for any additional residences in the ALR (to curb non-farm development). The bill also reinstates one zone for all ALR land, incorporating the same rules for all parcels.
“In an era where food security is a growing global issue, our legislative changes intend to protect ALR land for its highest and best use – agricultural production,” Popham said.
Stan Vander Wall, president of the BC Agriculture Council, said the proposed changes will strengthen the ALR by ensuring that farmland is available for people to farm.
BC Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon expressed the importance of preserving the land as much as possible for food production, while protecting the rights and profitability of those who produce food.
Jennifer Dyson, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, said mega-homes and estates preclude land from ever being used for agriculture again.
“A farmer will not be able to afford to purchase these properties with the value of just the home in the millions,” she pointed out.
According to the ministry, the ALR includes more than 4.7 million hectares of B.C., which is less than five per cent of the province’s total land base.
British Columbia farmers produce nearly 50 per cent of the food that residents consume, and in 2017, farm cash receipts totaled $3.2 billion.