B.C. farmers came out in force at the legislature Monday to call for changes to Agricultural Land Reserve rules that they say are pushing families off their farms.
The biggest issue is a law that quietly came into effect this spring, restricting secondary dwellings on farmland. Protesters also called for changes to new restrictions on non-farm activities such as running a restaurant or attractions such as harvest festivals to introduce urban people to farming.
The changes came after NDP Agriculture Minister Lana Popham got rid of the two-zone system for agriculture land, which eased restrictions for non-farm uses in areas outside B.C.’s prime agricultural zones of the Okanagan, Fraser Valley, Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.
Agriculture Minister Lana Popham said she hears the concerns of farmers, but some of the issues raised at Monday’s rally are based on “misinformation,” about on-farm businesses and family residence rules.
“We probably could have communicated better,” Popham said. “Because there’s so much misinformation, since September we’ve been going around and trying to do myth-busting, setting the record straight, having conversations with British Columbians at the same time as taking their input as we create these regulations.”
Popham said the latest round of consultations on farmland regulations is scheduled to continue until mid-November, but anyone who has a concern can contact the ministry at any time.
Comox farmer Meghan McPherson said the previous farmland rules allowed two dwellings with fixed foundations in zone two, the zone eliminated by Popham. Now existing second homes are considered “legal non-conforming” and new ones are not allowed, which affects the ability to get mortgages, she said.
“Lenders consider ALR parcels high-risk to begin with, and now they’re filled with a bunch of structures that are not replaceable should something happen to them,” McPherson said.
She cited Popham’s restrictions on accepting fill material on farmland, describing a farmer who has been “reprimanded” by the land commission for re-gravelling the driveway leading to his 100-year-old farmhouse.
B.C. Liberal agriculture critic Ian Paton, a third-generation dairy farmer and MLA for Delta South, introduced a private member’s bill Monday called the “Home-Based Craft Food Act,” designed to allow small home-based businesses to make and sell low-risk food products like jam, candy, honey or bread directly to consumers from their farmland.
Paton also presented a petition with 26,000 names, calling for the government to repeal Bill 52, the NDP legislation that restricts secondary dwellings.
Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness introduce another bill aimed at giving land owners more ability to keep trespassers off their farms.
“Farmers around North America and in my riding who raise animals have experienced a spate of threatening messages, some of them violent, from activists dedicated to shutting down the practice of animal husbandry, which supplies protein for millions, comprises much of our agricultural industry and is an important way of life in B.C.,” Throness told the legislature.
“In a number of cases, including in the Fraser Valley, unlawful trespasses and occupations of farms have also taken place, leading to a loss of income and of security for farmers and their families.”
Throness noted the NDP government has accepted an opposition amendment to B.C.’s Trespass Act, which he called a good first step in protecting farmers from trespassers and possible disease transmission that can contaminate or kill livestock.