Opposition strong to expanded farmland uses

The popular ideas for Agricultural Land Reserve changes were to allow breweries and distilleries, as well as leasing farms

Allowing breweries and distilleries on farmland

The B.C. government’s proposals to expand food processing, retail and alcohol sales on farmland got a rough ride during a summer consultation tour with farmers, local governments and individuals invited to comment.

The agriculture ministry released a summary of submissions this week, after closed-door meetings in August with community, farming, ranching and agricultural industry representatives. The meetings were set up to develop regulations after the province passed legislation this spring, dividing the Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones with the intent of easing restrictions on farm-related and non-farm revenue activities.

A proposal to revise regulations restricting food storage, processing and retail sales, requiring half of products to be produced on the farm, was rejected by “a considerable majority of stakeholders from all regions,” the summary states.

With wineries and cideries already allowed on farmland, a proposal to extend the regulation to include breweries, distilleries and meaderies was supported by a majority in all regions, particularly from local governments in Zone 1, the Lower Mainland, Okanagan and Vancouver Island.

Wineries and cideries are allowed without approval from the Agricultural Land Commission, as long as half of the materials are produced on the farm. Some questioned whether that rule would work for breweries and distilleries, with hops, malting barley and distilling grain not produced in large quantities in B.C.

The government’s suggestion to allow larger tasting areas for wine, cider and potentially beer and distilled liquor was also rejected by “a considerable majority” of respondents. Selling alcoholic products not produced on the host farm was also opposed by a large majority, with opposition strongest in the North and Vancouver Island regions.

The loudest opposition came in response to the suggestion to allow a wider range of non-farm activities without approval of the ALC. The strongest supporters were landowners in Zone 2 (Interior, Kootenay and North regions). Oil and gas services on farmland are already allowed in northeastern B.C. under supervision of the Oil and Gas Commission.

The proposal to waive ALC approval for farmland subdivisions larger than a quarter section (64 hectares) was also opposed by a large majority, but the suggestion of leasing farmland to put it into production was widely supported.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick is preparing regulation changes for the cabinet approval, and hopes to have new regulations in place by the end of the year.

The consultation received more than 1,500 submissions by mail, email and through its website, and held meetings in Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Fort St. John, Cranbrook, Nanaimo and Abbotsford.