Victoria: Legislation has been introduced to strengthen the independence of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), so it can better fulfill its mandate of preserving the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), while encouraging farming and ranching within British Columbia.
Bill 15, the agricultural land commission amendment act 2019, continues the Ministry of Agriculture’s efforts to revitalize the ALR, the farmland within B.C. that’s protected for the province’s food security.
“The bill tabled on Thursday builds on the work we started over a year ago to better protect farmland and encourage farming and ranching in B.C.,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture. “We are ensuring the commission has the tools and the governance model required to strengthen its independence and ability to act in the best interest of our farmland within the Agricultural Land Reserve, so that British Columbians are able to access safe, locally grown food for generations to come.”
If passed, the legislation will strengthen ALC governance and independence, and further protect land within the ALR by:
- replacing the current ALC governance model of six panel regions and an executive committee with one commission maintaining regional representation by requiring membership from all six administrative regions;
- providing the chair of the ALC with more flexibility to organize commission members into a decision-making panel on applications when warranted, by topic, technical expertise or by an administrative region;
- adding new decision-making criteria to prioritize the protection and enhancement of the size, integrity and continuity of the land base that the ALC must consider when exercising any power or performing a duty under the ALCA;
- adding more compliance and enforcement capacity and tools, including a new offence for landowners who do not produce records to the ALC when ordered;
- requiring that exclusions be submitted to the ALC only by local governments, First Nations governments or the Province, to encourage these type of applications be done as part of thoughtful land-use planning process.
The legislative changes are part of the government’s ongoing commitment to revitalize the ALR and the ALC. The ALR was established in 1973 to protect land with prime agricultural conditions for farming and ranching. It currently protects approximately 4.6 million hectares of agriculturally suitable land in British Columbia. The ALR is administered by the Agricultural Land Commission, an independent tribunal mandated to preserve agricultural land and encourage farming on agricultural land.
“BC Agriculture Council appreciates working with government on its efforts to revitalize the ALC/ALR,” said Stan Vander Waal, president, BC Agriculture Council. “In order to ensure farmland is protected for current and future food security, while protecting the rights of farmers and ranchers, the ALC’s governance structure must have a decision-making process that is flexible, adaptive and efficient. Overall, the update is a positive step forward. We strongly support local regional input, which is critical given the diversity of agriculture in B.C.”
- The ALR includes 46,159 square kilometres of B.C. that are preserved for agricultural use, which is equivalent to less than 5% of B.C.’s total land base.
- Land in the ALR falls into one of seven soil classes, ranging from Class 1 (wide range of crops can be grown without difficulty) to Class 7 (unsuitable for soil-based agriculture or sustained grazing, suitable for barns, greenhouses and processing facilities).
- Currently, 10% of the land in the ALR produces 85% of B.C.’s farm receipts, and 3% of ALR land in the South Coast region produces 65% of the province’s farm receipts.