Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham toured the province speaking to farmers.

B.C. aims for $15B in farm product revenues

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick says climate change may benefit B.C. agriculture, but more irrigation is a priority

The B.C. Liberal government and opposition MLAs both want greater success for the province’s farmers, but they don’t see eye to eye on how to achieve it.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick released the government’s latest strategic growth plan Wednesday, raising the target from $14 billion to $15 billion by 2020. Total revenues from farm and food products reached $12.3 billion last year, a record.

The plan suggests that as climate change creates warmer conditions, B.C. may benefit even as tropical food production declines. The province also expects new trade deals with Korea and the European Union, and the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, to increase farm and food product sales.

Letnick said one strategy the government is pursuing to increase the amount of productive farmland in B.C. is to improve access to irrigation.

An opposition agriculture committee chaired by NDP critic Lana Popham and independent Delta South MLA Vicki Huntingon released its own report Wednesday after a province-wide tour to consult farmers.

Their report says the high cost of farmland is a major deterrent for new farmers to enter the industry. It calls for the establishment of a provincial trust to buy and preserve farmland for new B.C. farmers, as well as new rules to restrict sale of farmland to foreign buyers.

Popham and Huntington said they heard criticism from farmers about the decision to divide the Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones, with more non-farm uses allowed in the Interior zone. They renewed their call for the government to return to one zone and hire more compliance staff to make sure farmland isn’t being inappropriately used.

Letnick said it’s too early to tell what effect the two-zone ALR system is having on farmland, and he will report in the spring on the results of the new system.

Despite the B.C. salmon farm industry being targeted for years by environmental campaigns against it, B.C.’s top export food product is cultured Altlantic salmon, followed by “food preparations for manufacturing,” blueberries, baked goods and crab.

Farmed salmon is also the third most valuable product in total B.C. sales, after dairy and poultry products. Farmed salmon sales were $504 million, compared to $554 million for dairy and ahead of greenhouse and field vegetables, which had revenue of $449 million in the province’s latest figures.

The B.C. government’s plan also includes “supporting international media missions to increase awareness of the B.C. aquaculture industry and increase demand for B.C. seafood products to key markets.”

The province announced four new net-pen salmon aquaculture tenures this past July, after federal permits were issued, then announced no more tenures will be granted until a review of application and approval procedures is completed.