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The Argument over Where to Put ‘Agri-Tech’ Zones

The Argument over Where to Put ‘Agri-Tech’ Zones

In the name of food security, BC proposes whittling away Agricultural Land Reserve farmland. Opposition is sprouting.

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‘What are the bottlenecks for agri-tech or ag-industrial? What is agri-tech and ag-industrial? I think we need to define it,’ says Agricultural Land Commission chair Jennifer Dyson. She and husband Russell pose with water buffaloes at their farm in Port Alberni. Photo: supplied.

The province is working to carve out new industrial zones for agricultural technology, saying the goal is better food security. But farmers, land-use experts and former NDP ministers are all raising concerns over the proposed location — on the arable soil of the Agricultural Land Reserve.

Last month, deputy minister of agriculture Wes Shoemaker was appointed head of a new effort to establish agri-industrial zones, “as recommended by” the BC NDP government’s Food Security Task Force, said an internal email obtained by The Tyee.

The recommendation, one of four in a new report titled “The Future of B.C.’s Food System,” is to convert up to 0.25 per cent of the Agricultural Land Reserve into agri-industrial zones.

Population growth and climate change may make agri-tech — which supports the production, processing and distribution of food — increasingly necessary. But proponents of the ALR warn about eliminating soil-based food production on 11,500 hectares of land. That’s the size of Vancouver.

The ALR was established in 1973 to protect B.C. farmland from overdevelopment. At a time when the province was losing as much as 6,000 hectares of land every year to urban sprawl, the NDP government under Dave Barrett placed the five per cent — or 4.7 million hectares — of the province that’s farmable into a reserve based on a soil-climate classification.

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