During a recent CBC interview Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick emphasized he “has landed” on affirming the primary purposes of the Agricultural Land Commission set out in Section 6 of the Agricultural Land Commission Act, especially farmland preservation.
He mentioned the “only proposed change” in Bill 24 is to create a Zone 2 with the purpose of helping farmers to “grow their business.”
This would be through “flexibility to consider social and economic factors” in allowing non-farm uses or revising land reserve boundaries.
Affirming priority on preserving agricultural land is meaningless unless supported by substantive and consistent policies.
Application of undefined factors by separate panels creates limitless opportunities for decisions inconsistent with ALR objectives.
There appear to be no consistent policies regarding use of land for non-farm purposes.
Certainly, methane digesters, greenhouses, co-generators, etc. linked to farm operations are, as the minister stated, appropriate.
The problem is that suitable non-farm uses and their extent on agricultural land are not well-defined, leaving excessive scope for interpretation.
Unregulated expansion of non-farm uses is not a sound long-term economic approach if it means losing or impairing productive farmland.
For example, is a rodeo grounds an appropriate use of farmland when alternative sites exist, even if it generates spending? Spending may not represent sound long-term economics.
Also, there is no assurance that revenue from proposed non-farm uses intended to “grow the business” will be used for that purpose.
Will “aging farmers” actually launch new (farm) projects as suggested?
Certainly some parcels can have lower capability components. However, what safeguards will ensure that their development won’t impact farmable holdings?
That includes subdivision pressures and future land use conflicts.
It’s better to refine ALR boundaries than enable inconsistent application of potential “social and economic weight” in making land use decisions.
Bill 24 proposals should be dropped.
Instead the commission should be funded to develop and apply policies and identifying non-farm uses consistent with ALR objectives.
These can be put in place using existing regulation powers, ideally following sound public consultation.