Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) Review of Operations, Policies and Legislation

BC Agriculture Council Discussion Document

The Future of the ALR, the Future of Farming, the Future of Food

The ALC has established a three-member panel to undertake a review of all facets of the Commission, including operations, policies and legislation, to ensure that it is positioned to continue the agricultural land preservation program well into the future. The stated purpose of the review is to determine if the Commission is capable of meeting its mandate as outlined in section 6 of the Agriculture Land Commission Act and to explore opportunities to more effectively and efficiently administer the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).
The established Panel is now in the process of engaging in focussed discussions with stakeholders, including the BCAC (Appendix A). The purpose of this background document is to provide some context of the ALC review for organizations participating in it, as well as to seek input from BCAC members on the issues concerning the ALR and the Commission.

The Scarcity and sensitivity of ALR farmland in BC:
Of the 89 million hectares of land within the Provincial land base, only 4.6 million hectares are within the Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR), and of that there are only 2.8 million hectares of farmland. Less than 3% of the ALR is capable of supporting a broad range of agriculture, with just over 1% is considered prime agricultural land.
As a result of the province‟s very limited agricultural land, and the development pressure that occurs in these areas, much of BC agriculture has increasingly been operating within an urban shadow. The Fraser Valley, Southern Vancouver Island, and the Okanagan contain 2.7% of the provincial land area, 81% of B.C.‟s population, and 81% of annual farm gate sales. Since the ALR was created, according to ALC statistics, these regions have experienced a net loss of more than 35,000 hectares.
Agricultural land is sensitive. Fertile soil and the physical and environmental conditions for agriculture are unique and irreplaceable. Competing demands for resources such as water, increasing pressures from other sectors to make alternate use of agricultural lands, and the inevitable urban/rural conflicts that arise around normal farm practices are all impacting the viability of the agriculture sector. At the same time, farming is becoming increasingly important as the world becomes more concerned about food security and supply, climate change, a growing public interest in the role of agriculture in relation to the natural environment and, by farmers throughout the province, a concern about their future. Maintaining the productive capacity of the ALR is a societal interest that cannot be taken for granted.
Population growth is rapid in British Columbia, and, historically, agricultural land has been developed because it is one of the easiest places to build. By 2030, BC‟s population is expected to grow by 30% to 5.5 million people – further increasing the development pressures on our very limited farmland resources and, at the same time, increasing the need to have a productive agricultural land base in BC. There is no indication that this development pressure will diminish.
The contributions provided to society from agriculture go far beyond maintaining an agricultural land base for future generations. Agriculture supports communities and a way of life. BC‟s farming and ranching landscapes provide for protection of open space, clean air and water, wildlife corridors and habitat, conservation of biodiversity, as well as tourism and recreational opportunities. Agriculture is ranked as one of the largest economic sectors of the province, with attendant family, community, cultural and provincial economic benefits. Agriculture provides links to the past and opportunities for the future.
Prior to the creation of the Agricultural Land Reserve in 1973, government figures estimated 6,000 hectares of prime agricultural land was lost to urban non-agricultural development each year.

BCAC Position Statement on Agriculture and the ALR:
The principle of an established Agricultural Land Reserve is recognized by the BCAC as an important tool to maintain the long-term ability to produce crops and livestock in BC. The BCAC policy position statement on the ALR (Appendix B) has the following comment:
“The BCAC supports the principle of the Agriculture Land Reserve as a vital tool to provide a viable climate in which to operate our industry.
It must be recognized that the single most important factor in preserving farmland is to preserve the farmer by ensuring that a comprehensive economic and regulatory framework exists that supports viable farm operations for good farm owners and managers.
While Agriculture in general is continuously modifying its practices to meet expectations of consumers and demands from the environmental lobby, the preservation of farm land is intrinsically linked to the ability of the producer to make a living and prosper.”