B.C. VIEWS: Two solitudes on B.C. farmland

Dividing the province into two zones for agricultural land management is an idea that deserves serious consideration

A farmer prepares his field in Delta. Debate has continued for decades about the agricultural land reserve's function outside B.C.'s main farming regions of the Okanagan and southwest

VICTORIA – My late father used to say that if he ever won the lottery, he would “farm until it’s all gone.”

It was 1960 when he and my mother pulled up stakes in the Okanagan, where their families had been for generations, and moved north to carve a homestead out of a half section in the Peace River country.

So it’s a mainly northern perspective that I bring to the latest debate over B.C.’s agricultural land reserve. A dialogue of the deaf has been going on for decades in B.C., where there are two separate realities in agriculture.

The dominant voice is always from the southwest, from the Okanagan to the Fraser Valley to southern Vancouver Island. This is not only B.C.’s most productive land, it’s also the place of greatest population and development pressure, where three million of the province’s four million residents live and more arrive every day.

In the rest of the province, except for pockets that are attractive for recreational development, farming is a tough row to hoe. These days, people are more likely to be moving away.

In our urbanized society, the loudest voices tend to be the least informed, from backyard-chicken hipsters to what I call “drive-by environmentalists,” who like to look out their car windows at green fields as they motor from their subdivisions to big-box stores. The elderly Sikhs and Mexican guest workers bent over in the fields don’t need their lofty lectures on “food security.”

Voices from the rest of the province are seldom heard and quickly shouted down, as was the case at the recent Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Merritt councillor Mike Goetz pleaded for relief from an Agricultural Land Commission that refuses to release a property that has “grown nothing but rocks and tumbleweeds for the last 100 years.” Similar property next door was released, but not this parcel, blocking a project for five years in a little town that could use the work and additional tax base. Urban sprawl isn’t a big problem in Merritt, which like many small towns is trying to hang onto its population.

Spallumcheen councillor Ed Hanoski described the situation beyond the towns, the real rural B.C. He proposed easing the restrictions on building a second home on farm properties.

Currently, farmers can put a mobile home on their property for an elderly or infirm relative, but nothing with a permanent foundation. Once that relative moves or passes away, the home is supposed to be removed.

Hanoski said a sewage system for such a residence costs around $12,000. Add the temporary foundation, skirting, well hookup, power, landscaping, driveway, and a mobile home that will lose its value if it has to be moved, and the property owner takes a loss of $150,000 or more.

That’s why the removal rule is routinely ignored in rural B.C., Hanoski said. These second homes are the only rental stock there is, providing modest income for marginal farms, and should be allowed permanent foundations. Motion defeated, after a scolding from a Sunshine Coast delegate about people lusting to build mansions on farmland.

I asked Bill Bennett, the cabinet minister in charge of the latest agricultural land review, about a rumoured proposal to split the province into two zones with different rules. He declined to comment, but described the case of Fort Steele Farms, the East Kootenay community’s only market garden that almost closed because the next generation was initially refused permission for a second home.

The two zones approach deserves serious consideration.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press and BCLocalNews.com Twitter:@tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

Flood 2018: What comes next

Most evacuation orders have been rescinded, and residents are starting to return home

PHOTOS: Floodwaters rise and fall in Grand Forks

The flood-ravaged Kootenay-Boundary region begins to heal

VIDEO: Grand Forks shores up defences as floodwaters rise to peak levels

Canadian Forces, volunteers working to protect low-lying areas

UPDATED: Majority of flood evacuees in Kootenay-Boundary allowed to return home

Officials hope to have all 3,000 people back in their homes by Monday night

VIDEO: As floodwaters recede, crews assess the damage to Grand Forks’ downtown

More than four dozen firefighters and building inspectors came out to help

Police release video on how to ‘run, hide, fight’ if there’s an active shooter

Vancouver police offer video with input from E-Comm, BC EHS, Vancouver Fire and Rescue

Horgan defends fight to both retain and restrict Alberta oil imports

Alberta says pipeline bottlenecks are kneecapping the industry, costing millions of dollars a day

RCMP caution boaters after two kids pass out from carbon monoxide poisoning

Both children were given oxygen and taken to hospital

B.C. invests $115M to create 200 new nurse practitioner jobs

Health Minister says 780,000 B.C. residents don’t have a family doctor

Supreme Court rules social housing residents in B.C. deserve rights too

Tenants trying to stabilize their living situations should not face less legal rights than those paying market rates: Judge

Union calls on prime minister to step into ‘stalled’ Phoenix compensation talks

For more than two years, thousands of federal workers have been affected by Phoenix system

Judge: President Trump can’t block critics on Twitter

The judge had suggested that Trump mute rather than block some of his critics

NFL owners adopt new policy to address anthem protests

Commissioner Roger Goodell said the change was approved unanimously by owners

Unicyclist starts his cross-Canada trip in Vancouver

Taylor Stark started his journey May 7

Most Read