Supporting B.C. Farmers in the ALR: Public Engagement Report Recap and Call for Feedback

Posted by Hailey Troock on February 04, 2020

bill 52, alr, young agrarians

Call for Feedback on B.C. Government’s Proposed Changes to Legislation for Housing on ALR Land

Between September 19 and November 15, 2019, the Ministry of Agriculture undertook public consultations to continue to address how to strengthen farming in B.C. The findings can be downloaded here.

In 2019, the Province of B.C. implemented new regulations on land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) through Bill 52. In response to public feedback on the new regulations, the Ministry has “started policy work on several residential options, while continuing to prioritize preserving the land to be used for farming or ranching. The Policy Intentions Paper found here will be available for people to provide feedback on starting on January 27th, 2020 to April 17, 2020″. 

You can find a recap below of  both the report and the policy intentions paper.

Supporting B.C. Farmers Public Engagement: “What We Heard” Report Recap

The Why: Following amendments to B.C.’s Agricultural Land Commission Act (ALCA) seeking to further protect land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), the Ministry of Agriculture undertook a public consultation process to engage the public on how to best:

• Support farmers and ranchers in the ALR to expand and diversify their businesses;
• Help new or young farmers become established on the land and in business; and,
• Ensure there is flexibility for residential options while prioritizing agriculture in the ALR.

The How: Submissions took many forms and included over 1,500 online surveys, in-person consultations across the province and letters from organizations ranging from farmers institutes, cattleman’s and livestock associations and growers associations to food policy councils, local governments and real estate foundations.

The What: The engagement process brought increased attention to the need to balance farming and residential uses on ALR land, regional realities for farming, and regulatory burdens impacting family farms and doing business within the ALR.

Common themes from the online submissions centred around multiple residences, regulations, education, financial support, local market and procurement, and support for current farmers.

When asked how the Ministry can best support farmers and ranchers to expand and diversify their businesses, respondents largely focused on economic opportunities, such as events and farm gate sales. Some respondents called for more flexibility in land use and less ‘restrictions on entrepreneurial ideas’, while others were unsupportive of activities like cannabis growing and agri-tourism, arguing that ALR land should ‘only be used for primary production’.

In relation to residential options, the Ministry wanted to know how they could ensure both flexibility and the prioritization of agriculture in the ALR. House size, secondary dwelling, home plate strategy, regional differences and ALR land assessment, in terms of ‘farmability’ of land included in the ALR, were also brought up.

The in-person engagement sessions received diverse input, with residential flexibility and more clear communication with the ALC as shared themes. Considering the regional differences between farming across B.C., below are a few concerns by region (this is NOT a complete list):

Central/North Vancouver Island:

  • Parcels for farming in this region are often small and value-added business is necessary to make farming economically viable
  • Small farms may not be able to manage all the certifications needed to sell into a retail market.

South Coast:

  • Questions around the differences in municipal regulations and ALC regulations around definition of a farm and level of farming needed to occur before ALC will approve an application for a secondary dwelling for farm use or other non-farm uses.

North:

  • Concerns about residential uses and why restrictions are necessary when the parcel sizes in the north are so large, foreign ownership related to both purchasing land to open a farm business but not returning value to community, and access to slaughter facilities.

Okanagan:

  • Concerns regarding community water, community irrigation and water use, the involvement of local government decision-making, need for temporary foreign worker housing and lack of labour supply.

Kootenays:

  • Questions regarding regulatory requirements related to water use, outdoor burning, agricultural wastes, Health Authority requirements related to food processing, growing cannabis on ALR and management practices on crown ALR land.

Interior:

  • Questions around the February deadline for grandfathering of secondary home applications and general desire for the Ministry to provide more funding, basic science, programs, and services across all types of farming and ranching.

Ministry of Agriculture Policy Intentions Paper: Residential Flexibility in the ALR

The paper outlines the Ministry’s proposed policy direction to increase residential flexibility in the ALR.

One of the recent policy changes made by the ALC included a phase-out of a long-standing previous rule that had allowed ALR landowners to place a small secondary residence in the ALR without ALC approval, so long as it was a manufactured home for immediate family members. In response to public concerns, the grandfathering period has now been extended a second time to December 31, 2020.

The rationales for increased residential flexibility have included keeping aging family members on the land or transitioning a new farmer onto the land, without having to apply to the ALC for secondary residences, which is summarized in the below proposed policy direction, taken from the paper:

“In order to support farmers and non-farmers living in the ALR, the Ministry is considering a change to regulations that will enable landowners in the ALR to have both a principal residence and a small secondary residence on their property, provided they have approval from their LG [local government]. In other words, there would be no required application to the ALC. Further, the province would not impose restrictions to require this secondary residence be a manufactured home, or be for an immediate family member, or be part of a farming plan…. This direction does not include reconsideration of the maximum size of a principal residence; nor changing the ALC as the decision maker for additional residences for farm use.”

It’s important to note that these are proposed policy changes open for public comment. If you’d like more information on this process or you want to provide feedback for policy consideration, you can do so until April 17, 2020, through the following methods:

  1. Contact ALR_ALCRevitalization@gov.bc.ca
  2. Write the Minister of Agriculture at PO Box 9043 Victoria BC V8W 9E2
  3. Call the AgriServiceBC line at 1 888 221-7141

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