Today, MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard moved her Motion to Protect Agricultural Land and Encourage Farming. You can watch the video here, or read the transcript below.
I’m delighted to put forward my first motion in the House on the matter of a most basic human need.
Deputy Speaker: Hon. Member, you need to move the motion.
R. Leonard: Yes.
[Be it resolved that this House recognizes the importance of protecting agricultural land and encouraging farming.]
Without sustenance, we would all perish, and without arable land or farmers, we could not grow the food we need. In our vast and varied province, our limited fertile ground is found where land uses other than agricultural aggressively compete for housing, commerce, industry, resource extraction, roads — you name it. In 1973, food production was prioritized on about 4.7 million hectares of highly sought-after, fertile real estate, protecting 5 percent of the land base within a single agricultural land reserve to be overseen by an independent provincial commission.
The Comox Valley is an agricultural community with $34 million in gross farm receipts and growing. But today, only 23 percent of the more than 23,000 hectares of ALR is actively farmed, and 62 percent of the remaining land is in its natural state and available for production. That’s three times as much land that could be farmed but isn’t. That’s a lot of potential. It’s important to protect that potential and encourage more farming, since Vancouver Island gets more than 90 percent of its food from off Island, and there is only enough supply here for a few days.
We witnessed how important food security can be with the wildfires in B.C. last year, when some communities were cut off and only local food was available. Resiliency to withstand disaster is where we need to be in every community.
So how do we encourage farming and grow local supply? The Comox Valley has some encouraging trends to reflect on. Although the average age of Comox Valley farmers is 59 years old — older than the Canadian average — unlike most of Canada, there’s been a surge in agri-investments there, seeing more land going into production and higher gross farm receipts, according to our local economic development office.
While the older generation is still farming, many young agrarians are cropping up. There have been the development of niche markets with a number of grape and fruit wineries, Natural Pastures’ award-winning cheeses, Tree Island’s yogurt and McClintock’s Farms’ water buffalo yogurt, as well as the renowned shellfish aquaculture of Baynes Sound.
Beef farms are expanding herds and buying up farms and growing a grass-fed, organic, natural, specialty meats sector. Its necessary forage production has the potential in the Comox Valley to grow up to five times what it is today. On the other end of the spectrum, organic produce on small farms with young agrarians has seen an uptick, but accessing land is an issue. There are about ten big dairy farms and over 400 small farms, 75 percent being organic.
Diligent support and a comprehensive plan is needed to turn trends into long-term change, and our new government is doing just that. Grow B.C. will help young farmers access that land and support expansion of local food production. Feed B.C. will help grow consistent markets for B.C.–grown and –processed food, and Buy B.C. will expand marketing and expand market access.
Agricultural land in B.C. is under threat after the previous government brought forward Bill 24 in 2014 with virtually no consultation. Continuous improvement is a good concept, but it can’t be achieved without regard for those who practise farming or who are in the food industry. The uproar that followed the creation of two zones — that’s two kinds of ALR — with attached legislative measures that will allow losses of up to 90 percent of good farmland indicates that Bill 24 has not been considered an improvement.
That’s why I am encouraged by today’s Minister of Agriculture’s interest in hearing from British Columbians about what we can do to strengthen our farming and ranching industry. The new ALR revitalization commission has an impressive diversity of agricultural interests, and the different geographical areas of B.C. are well represented. It has heard from over 1,500 British Columbians. Their work and our renewed focus on B.C. agriculture should put us on the right track to better protect our agricultural land and encourage farming.