Budget contains some benefits to agriculture
The pre-election budget tabled by the B.C. Liberals includes a strengthening for the Agricultural Land Commission and some exemption for carbon tax for the agriculture industry — a move applauded by Comox Valley MLA Don McRae.
This year, the ALC will receive nearly $3 million in operating funding.
"That's a pretty substantial increase which will allow them to do the work more efficiently," McRae said in an interview. "Pieces that affect places like the Comox Valley, it allows them to work more closely with local governments. It will also give them some extra resources for compliance and enforcement activities if people are abusing their ALR land."
The money will also help the organization become more efficient and update its databases.
The ALC is a Crown agency that aims to preserve agricultural land and enable farm business in B.C. It has authority over the Agricultural Land Reserve, a zone in which agriculture is recognized as the priority use.
Farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are controlled. The ALR covers about 4.7 million hectares. It includes private and public lands that may be farmed, forested or vacant. Some ALR blocks cover thousands of hectares while others are small pockets.
"I think people are recognizing that B.C. wants to be as food self-sufficient as possible," McRae said. "Making sure we preserve our farmland is ensuring we can grow our food in good areas, for British Columbians and for export."
He notes the hundreds of registered farms from Fanny Bay to Oyster River, as well as local agri-tourism activity and the farmers market.
"In the Comox Valley, I believe we grow 185 of the 220 products in British Columbia," McRae said. "We are incredibly diverse and strong...People aspire to have a market like ours."
He said the carbon tax exemption is not a huge impact because there are not an abundance of local greenhouse growers.
"But if you buy farm gas, they're basically taken off the carbon tax on that product from farmers, which for British Columbia is over $4 million a year. Again, that's savings right into the farmers' pockets for those who are buying gasoline."
Comox Valley Regional District chair/Area C director Edwin Grieve has always thought it odd that landowners who grow crops and keep grasslands that act as a 'carbon soak' receive no carbon credit for the carbon dioxide they sequester, and the oxygen that plants return to the atmosphere.
"I am encouraged by the great work that the Agricultural Land Commission has done for farming in British Columbia," Grieve said. "In an area of climate uncertainty and the emphasis on locally grown products and the Hundred Mile Diet, I believe we all need to recognize and support our local growers whenever and however we can."