When it comes to protecting farmland, the choice is obvious and the rationale is simple: the best farmland in our province should be used to grow food, not for mega-mansions and illegal garbage dumps.
Over the last 15 years, pressures on our farmland were allowed to grow, driving the cost of land out of reach for farmers, discouraging people from joining the profession and investing in food production, and allowing our valuable farmland to be damaged or lost, often permanently. We’re fixing that.
On Nov. 5, I introduced legislation that protects the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and makes it clear that farmland in the ALR is meant for farming. The legislation addresses mega-mansions and speculation in the ALR so farmers can get onto the land and bring it into production. It cracks down on dumping construction waste and fill to protect our valuable, arable soil, and it reinstates one zone for all ALR land in British Columbia to make it clear that the entire ALR benefits from the same strong protection.
The number of mansions and lifestyle estates on ALR land in urban areas has steadily increased in recent years, inflating farmland prices and preventing new, often younger farmers from growing food. In April 2018, it was reported that after a new mega mansion was built on a nearly 20 acre lot assessed at $85,000, it was sold for $9.2 million. That’s more than $465,000 per acre, putting that land far out of reach for farmers.
By setting a maximum house size of 500 square metres (approximately 5,400 square feet) throughout the ALR, our government is putting a stop to the speculation and building of mega-mansions on our most valuable farmland.
The change does not affect existing houses. Multi-generational farming families who live together and work their land will also still be able to build larger homes if needed through application to the ALC. Mega-mansions on the ALR were one of the main concerns we’ve heard from British Columbians expressed to an independent committee tasked with reviewing how we could revitalize the ALR and the ALC, and it is one on which the government is delivering.
British Columbians are also concerned about the illegal dumping of construction waste on the ALR. The damage of truckload after truckload of waste is often permanent, putting land out of production. This year alone, the ALC has dealt with 191 cases related to fill – 45% of all their compliance and enforcement files. Fill dumping can range from anywhere from eight truckloads to hundreds of thousands of truckloads on a single piece of land. At between $50 and $200 per truckload, you can see why some people find it more lucrative to farm fill rather than food.
Under the new bill, dumping construction waste and other damaging substances on farmland will be prohibited, with strong penalties and new tools for enforcement. New offences for illegal fill and soil removal have been created under the new act with maximum penalties of $1 million or six months imprisonment for a first offence.
The return to one zone throughout the ALR will result in all land in the reserve being protected equally, with one set of decision-making criteria focused on preserving the ALR and encouraging farming and ranching. Farmers who wish to supplement their income through non-farming activities on their land will still be able to apply to the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to do so. British Columbians support this approach, and so do B.C. farmers, with both the B.C. Agriculture Council and family farms championing a one-zone system in which all land in the ALR receives the same protection.
There’s more work to come. This is all part of our government’s ongoing commitment to revitalize the ALR and the ALC to protect farmland and farming in British Columbia. The old government allowed pressures on our farmland to grow. For too long, people have used the ALR for mega-mansion estate-living and as illegal garbage dumps, but we’re changing that.
Our government is making it clear that farmland in the ALR is for British Columbians who farm it and support prosperity in our communities, and whose hard work will let us all put fresh, local food on our tables for years to come.
–Lana Popham is B.C. Minister of Agriculture.