Okanagan: Steele soften stance on land reserve changes

The president of the B.C. Fruit Growers' Association says he feels the ministry of agriculture is listening

It appears allowing housing development on agricultural land was never on the provincial agenda, according to Fred Steele, president of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association.

Steele, a Kelowna orchardist, met with ministry of agriculture officials last Thursday as part of a consultation process for writing the regulations needed to carry out the Agricultural Land Commission amendments.

The regulations delineate what activities are allowed on farmland, whether those be business ventures or additional buildings, without application to the ALC.

After hearing the discussion, Steele does not believe development, whether for pipelines, housing or resorts, is an underlying motivation as critics initially feared. “They were actually talking about subdividing pieces

of land in quarter sections so it can be used for farming. That’s a totally different matter than if you were applying it to residential construction,” he said.

The NDP continues to lash out against the amendments, saying the creation of two zones within the ALR—an untouchable zone where land deemed more productive will remain under the same regulations as before, and a new zone where land will not be as strictly confined to farming practices—paves the way for oil and gas pipelines in the north and housing development in the Kootenays.

But Steele said he came away from the discussion encouraged the changes are really meant to keep the farm afloat in areas where production is lean, and he’s confident the ministry is genuinely seeking input.

“Sometimes you get the impression the other party is listening, but they’re not really hearing you,” he said.

“I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think it’s safe to say, I’m not as alarmed as I might have been before.”

The ministry was very clear its mandate is complaint-based and it wants to create a new set of regulations the farming community can work with and sees as productive, he added.

Nevertheless, he does see foibles in what’s unfolding.

Central Okanagan farmers want to ensure there’s equity in the new regulations between small and large farming operations and he laid out their concerns at Thursday’s discussion.

Should a farmer on a big property be allowed to add a new value-added venture under the new regulations, it shouldn’t automatically mean a small producer has the same rights, he explained.

And there has to be a means of assisting the small producer as well.

“You can’t have a five-acre piece of land with three acres of it taken up by the facilities and all of a sudden there is a parking lot with street lamps and it’s no longer a farm.”

Steele has questions about enforcement as well—how it will be done and who is doing it. He also has concerns about allowing on-farm operations outside of the strict agricultural focus of the ALR land to overpower the nature of the farm. He will be providing all of this input, as will others in the farming community.

The consultation process launched in July is now well underway. A website, engage.gov.bc.ca/landreserve will be live through this Friday. Those wishing to add comments via email can do so at ALCA_Feedback@gov.bc.ca or mail them to ALR Reg. Consultation, PO Box 9120 Stn. Provincial Government, Victoria, B.C.