BC Association of Farmers' Markets
#103 - 1089 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6H 1E5
OPEN LETTER TO BC MINISTER OF AGRICULTURE ON BILL 24 AND THE AGRICULTURAL LAND RESERVE
May 26, 2014
Honourable Norm Letnick
Minister of Agriculture
PO Box 9056 STN PROV GOVT
Victoria, BC V8W 9E2
Dear Honourable Norm Letnick,
Re: Opposition to Bill 24 and proposed changes to BC's Agricultural Land Reserve
I am writing to you on behalf of the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) to convey our concern regarding the lack of public consultation leading up to the announcement of Bill 24 and the resulting impacts on BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). British Columbians are stakeholders in this decision and our opinions and concerns regarding food, farmers and farmland must not be underestimated or overlooked in this consultation process. We urge you to seriously consider the points we have outlined below.
As an organization representing 125 farmers’ markets and one thousand small-scale farmers selling at markets across BC, we are concerned that our provincial representatives have not considered our members’ views and opposition to Bill 24. BC’s farmers’ markets work tirelessly in all corners of the province to strengthen local economies and provide British Columbians with fresh, healthy local agricultural products. Our ability to continue to deliver these benefits into the future, however, is tied directly to the availability of agricultural land throughout the province. As one of our members stated, “protecting the ALR is central to protecting and enhancing what our local farmers' markets exist to support - healthy and strong communities and food systems.” Our member farmers’ markets in the North and Interior specifically have expressed concern that Bill 24 will directly threaten their regionally focused agricultural initiatives and thereby threaten the very viability of farmers' markets in their area.
BC’s farmers’ markets are a rapidly growing sector that contributed $113 million in direct sales to BC’s economy in 2012, a 147 percent increase from $46 million in 2006. The proposed changes in Bill 24 not only threaten the viability of farmers’ markets, they threaten the economic and social benefits that markets deliver to the communities they support.
The BCAFM is opposed to giving regional panelists the authority to make initial decisions on ALR applications as proposed in Bill 24. This governance structure was used from 2002-2010 and was considered less effective than the current centralized administration and vetting of all ALR applications by the ALC, which ensures strong and consistent centralized authority.
British Columbians voted for a Liberal government. A campaign promise included, “Yes, we will maintain the excellent relationship we have built with the ALC.” The party also said it would increase funding to the Agricultural Land Commission, and would “work more closely with farmers, ranchers and agricultural organizations to preserve agricultural land.” We regret that these promises have not been upheld.
In an era of climate change, significant urban expansion, concerns about local food supply, food safety and sustainability, the BC government and Agricultural Land Commission must look at ways to encourage farming. Permitting non-agricultural industrial activities on ALR land will only fragment and degrade remaining viable land, leading to greater challenges for farmers in accessing agricultural land. That being said, we support changes that will specifically help farm and ranch operations to be financially successful.
With the dramatic increase in popularity of farmers’ markets by 146 percent from 2006 to 2012, our farmers’ markets need more farmers, not less - farmers are the primary reason that markets exist. This is more than just a farming issue, and our farmers' markets are at the centre of it. The BCAFM requests that the government not vote to enact Bill 24 and its amendments, and that changes to the ALR take place in consultation with the agricultural community as a whole.
On Behalf of the BCAFM Board of Directors
Premier of British Columbia, Honourable Christy Clark
Members of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia