The Voice of Experience: B.C. government needs to preserve Agricultural Land Reserve

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It’s not stretching the truth too far, in my view, to argue that much of British Columbia’s future hangs on the outcome of an argument between members of the province’s government and some — but not nearly enough, so far — of its citizens.

I’m referring, of course, to the government’s broad hints that it would like to reduce or even eliminate our Agricultural Land Reserve.

Why is this battle so crucial? Because B.C. has relatively little land that is fit for agriculture, because it will never have more (they’ve stopped making the stuff) and because the preservation of what we have is vital to the well-being of its present and future citizens, for more than one reason.

That’s why the ALR was created in the first place, back in 1973. The foresighted government of that day recognized how important to was to preserve our limited capacity to grow our own food.

Over the 40 years since, attempts have been made to whittle away at the reserve, with some success here and there and with a major shift of the ALR’s territory from the southern part of the province. But, thanks in large part to the vigilance and determined resistance of the commission that administers the program, the reserve remains of significant size and value.

It is far too precious to be chopped up for short-term-profit ventures like mining, or even to make way for residential or recreational development. It was important to try to save the Jumbo Glacier area. It is absolutely vital to save the ALR.

For one thing, global warming makes it increasingly important — in terms of its quality, our health and the saving of energy — that we grow as much of our food as we can as close as possible to where we live. For another, the more of our land that is devoted to crops or grassland, the more congenial our overall environment will be.

That is the case for preserving every acre of the ALR. As things now stand, however, there is one argument for simply closing our eyes to some proposals to reduce it.

When a farmer reaches retirement age — or more likely no longer has the strength to carry on — and there are no family members wanting to replace him or would-be farmers rich enough to compensate him adequately, we need to find him a way out of his predicament.

That way, I suggest, lies in precisely the opposite direction from the one being proposed by government members. After all, it is in the public interest to keep the ALR intact, even to enlarge it in the few situations where that may be possible.

Surely, then, it is in the public interest — and therefore the government’s duty — to give the Agricultural Land Commission enough funds to lend to young, would-be farmers who lack the wherewithal to purchase land from retiring owners.

A revolving fund large enough for the purpose wouldn’t cost taxpayers an arm and a leg, but over even a few years it would confer immense benefits on everyone in B.C.

Let’s have a positive approach to the ALR that matches the vision of those who created the institution four decades ago.

Peter Hepher is a retired journalist who lives in Creston.