The provincial government is threatening a rapidly growing sector of the economy with its proposed changes to the Agricultural Land Reserve, warns an open letter from the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets.
"B.C.’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," wrote Jon Bell, the president of the BCAFM on behalf of the organization's board of directors in a letter to Norm Letnick, the agriculture minister.
In 2012 such markets had $113 million in direct sales, an increase of 147 percent from $46 million in 2006, it said.
"Our ability to continue to deliver these benefits into the future, however, is tied directly to the availability of agricultural land throughout the province," the May 26 letter said. "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."
The government's legislation, which is expected to pass this week, splits the province into two zones and requires social and economic considerations to be given greater weight in decisions about what land is protected in the ALR in the North, Interior and Kootenay regions. It would also create regional panels to make initial decisions on applications to remove land from the ALR.
The BCAFM represents 125 farmers' markets and 1,000 small-scale farmers who sell at markets, but their views and opposition to the bill have not been considered, said the letter, which asks the government not to pass the bill and to consult with the wider agricultural community.
"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," it said.
Regional panels were used between 2002 and 2010, but were "considered less effective than the current centralized administration and vetting of all ALR applications by the ALC, which ensures strong and consistent centralized authority," it said.
"In an era of climate change, significant urban expansion, concerns about local food supply, food safety and sustainability, the B.C. government and Agricultural Land Commission must look at ways to encourage farming," the letter said. "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."