Helping farmers succeed and making sure farmland is protected for future generations are my top priorities as the minister of agriculture.
I’m advancing those priorities in two ways. First, I’ve strengthened the laws protecting farmland. In fact, they’ve never been stronger. Second, the Ministry of Agriculture is focused on helping farmers develop their businesses and assisting new farmers to get started in the sector. How are we doing this?
One way is through the “Buy BC” program. This marketing initiative encourages consumers to reach for B.C. products.Retailers like Thrifty Foods in Tsawwassen are now using “Buy BC” labels on products throughout their stores.
On top of that we have made great partnerships with the restaurant industry. White Spot, for example, is one of our valued partners. Did you know they use many crops grown right here in Delta? White Spot sources delicious potatoes, cabbages, onions, blueberries and other B.C. products from local farmers, and serves them up across the province, including in the Tsawwassen location.
Another important initiative that I want to share with you is “Feed BC.” I am working closely with my colleague Adrian Dix, the minister of health, to encourage hospitals and health-care facilities to use B.C. grown and processed food. This is a game changer. This innovative program is opening new markets for farmers and getting good results. We started this project with Interior Health and I’m pleased to share with you the news that Fraser Health will be beginning its own program in the coming months.
Big picture, how are farmers in B.C. doing? According to new data from Statistic Canada, gross farm cash sales in B.C. are higher than they’ve ever been: 2018 farm receipts were up six per cent over the year before, reaching $3.5 billion. And compared to the rest of Canada, we are one of only two provinces where farmers have a positive net income.
Key stakeholders are reporting back that we are on the right track. For example, Mark Siemens of the B.C. Egg Producers Association, recently wrote to me to note that our approach is “emphasizing our province's need for economic growth and food production over politics and agendas. This change in mindset will certainly increase our responsiveness as an industry and allow farms to grow in a more predictable manner.”
Helping people with their farm businesses is a huge part of the equation but if there is not enough land to farm, or if that farmland is too expensive for farmers, we have a big problem.Climate change makes it more important than ever that we sustain our farmland. Globally, the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change forecasts a two to six per cent decline in crop yields every decade going forward. Before the ALR was created we were losing thousands of hectares of farmland every year. And less than five per cent of B.C.’s land base is protected in the ALR.
That’s why I strengthened the laws in B.C. to protect farmland. We’ve banned mega-mansions, deterred fill-dumping and strengthened the Agricultural Land Commission’s authority to advance its mandate to protect farmland and encourage farming.
The B.C. NDP government will continue to work hard to help people succeed as farmers and to protect farmland. This will help our farming and rural communities thrive, it will strengthen the provincial economy and it will ensure we have locally grown and raised food on our tables now, and for generations to come.
Lana Popham is the Minister of Agriculture