ALC boss levels with council

Dividing farm land no way to save it: land commission.

ALC chair Richard Bullock and CEO Brian Underhill update Ridge council.

ALC chair Richard Bullock and CEO Brian Underhill update Ridge council.

If it’s tough to earn a living farming, don’t blame the plan that just tries to protect the land.

Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission, said Monday that too many land owners are trying to hive off bits of farmland for development, saying they can’t live on their farm’s current proceeds.

“If making farmland viable is cutting it up into little pieces and selling it off – that is a pretty short-term solution.

“People are attacking the ALC as the solution to everything and it isn’t. The ALR is being looked at as a quick fix,” by farmers who want to remove bits and pieces of their land from the agricultural reserve, for other uses.

“Pretty soon, there’s nothing left.”

Issues such as irrigation or water rates or anything that affects farming’s viability is the Ministry of Agriculture’s responsibility, he added. “Our job is to make sure the land is there when people want to farm it.”

Bullock was at Maple Ridge council Monday explaining the recent legislation, Bill 24, that creates two zones for the Agricultural Land Reserve. Zone 1 includes the Fraser Valley, Okanagan and Vancouver Island.

Zone 2 comprises farmland in the rest of the province, which now is open to more non-farm uses of the land to support farm operations.

Bullock though said the changes haven’t yet reached the commission.

“As of right now, the work of the commission is very much the same.

“But we are preparing for the next steps in the context of Bill 24.”

Deputy CEO Brian Underhill told Coun. Al Hogarth that soil classifications in some parts of B.C. are out of date and that climate change is affecting production. In northern B.C., the effect is positive.

Hogarth wanted to know how the commission regards farming, and movement of soil, that may hurt environmentally sensitive areas.

Underhill replied the commission won’t be bound by such areas. If it makes sense from farming point of view to move or deposit soil, the commission usually supports the farmer. It knows what are good farm practices, Underhill added.

“It (the commission) realizes that may go up against other values from time to time, especially in environmentally sensitive areas.”

Bullock said the changes from Bill 24, will have little effect on the land reserve in Metro Vancouver.

“In this part of the world, forget it.

“We’ve been told in this part of the world, things remain the same, if not getting tighter.”

Maple Ridge however continues to consider for removal about 250 acres from the Agricultural Land Reserve, the site of the former Pelton tree nursery at 203rd Street and Golden Ears Way.

Council supported a previous exclusion application for that property but the commission rejected that in 2010.

In January, council added the area to its list of possible sites for industrial use in its Commercial Industrial Strategy.

Council also supported removing farmland in Albion flats, on the west side of 105th Avenue, for a shopping mall, despite being told by the commission it wouldn’t consider that. The commission rejected two exclusion applications for the west side last summer, although it supports development on the east side.

Bullock though said most of the applications facing the commission deal with seeking approval for non-farm uses of land or subdivision of farmland.

Municipal councils though have the power of even preventing such applications from getting to the commission.

“Those are the ones that you can focus on and be helpful to us.”

Hogarth pointed out that Maple Ridge now allocates 10 per cent of the increased value of the tax revenue from land that’s removed from the reserve, into a fund that supports agriculture.

Couns. Bob Masse and Cheryl Ashlie wanted to know if the commission can help with other issues. Masse said the province should help clarify the soil classifications and quality in Maple Ridge.

Instead, he hears that Maple Ridge soil is only good for producing a crop of hay.

How will the drought in California affect farming in B.C.? Masse asked.

Bullock though said those questions should go to the minister, Norm Letnick.

“I’ve got a lot of time for this dude. He listens and he understands and he knows what the big issues are.”

Underhill also told Coun. Corisa Bell that the commission would cooperate, but not fund, a district-wide study that would update soil classifications that would indicate the possible uses of ALR land in Maple Ridge.

Bullock said the public is now more aware of the importance of agriculture and preserving farmland.

“I think the provincial government was absolutely gobsmacked,” by response to this spring’s legislation.

“I appreciate your passion,” said Mayor Ernie Daykin. He said from the time his grandfather arrived here, agriculture has shifted from mixed farming to dairy farming and berry farming.

“I think the key thing is, looking after the land.”