Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is meeting with B.C. Agriculture Council representatives this week to discuss their growing concerns about a plan to set new rules for protected farmland in the B.C. Interior.
When changes to the Agricultural Land Commission were announced in late March, the move was generally endorsed by Rhonda Driediger, then chair of the BCAC. Dreidiger, a berry grower in the Fraser Valley, said opening up the Interior, Kootenay and North regions to secondary uses based on social and economic needs would help farms innovate and stay in business.
Dreidinger has been succeeded as BCAC chair by Stan Vander Waal, who operates flower greenhouses in Chilliwack. After meeting last week with Letnick, Vander Waal wants changes to the legislation.
"It is the position of the B.C. Agriculture Council that as currently written, Bill 24 threatens the sustainability of agriculture in B.C.," Vander Waal said in a statement.
The BCAC is forming a steering committee of member farmers to continue discussions with the government.
The changes were spearheaded by Energy Minister Bill Bennett as part of the govenment's "core review" of operations. They would allow consideration of more non-farm uses outside the Island, South Coast and Okanagan regions where most of B.C.'s farm income is generated.
Bill 24 also formalizes the cabinet appointment process for the ALC's six regional panels, so two or three local farmers make the front-line decisions on applications for permitted uses such as a secondary residence.
NDP agriculture critic Nicholas Simons has protested the legislation since it was revealed.
"The decision to protect land suitable for agriculture 40 years ago was for the benefit of future generations," Simons said. "Having two zones and the 'regional panels' make decisions about agricultural land is too political."
Bennett said the current ALC chair has refused to appoint local panel members recommended by government, centralizing the ALC function and subverting the intent of changes made in 2003 to provide local input to decisions.