Monday, October 7, 2019

“Non-Farm Uses” within the Agricultural Land Reserve. A benefit or detriment to food security in our region?

Back in 2010, I released a report about the status of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in Metro Vancouver. The ALR was created in the 1970s by the provincial government to protect farmland in BC. The idea was that anything done within the ALR should not limit the future potential of farming.

The report I put together was titled, “Decade of Exclusions? A Snapshot of the Agricultural Land Reserve from 2000 – 2009 in the South of Fraser.” I had to visit the Agricultural Land Commissions (ALC) offices in Burnaby several times to comb through a decade’s worth of applications. It was a long process to put that report together.

Landowners and government can apply to have land removed from the ALR. They can also apply for “non-farm uses” within the ALR. While removing land from the ALR is generally controversial and creates headlines, “non-farm uses” that keep land within the ALR on paper, but lock land out of being farmed in the future tend to fly under the radar.

Between 2000 and 2009, transportation project in the ALR were responsible for two-thirds of land being unable to be farmed. Select chart to enlarge.

When I was doing my research at the time, highway projects were the “non-farm use” that was responsible for a large reduction in farmable land in the South of Fraser.

[Transportation] uses remove the ability of land to be farmed in the future and none of these uses get reported as land excluded from the ALR. This leads to an incomplete picture of the ALR as the only readily available information from the ALC is inclusion and exclusion data. For all intents and purposes land used for transportation is land excluded from the ALR.

I was happy to learn that the Institute of Sustainable Food Systems at Kwantlen Polytechnic University is working on a new project to see if these “non-farm use” and subdivision that occur within the Agricultural Land Reserve have had a positive or negative impact on farmland in Metro Vancouver. They will be looking at applications between 1997 and 2016.

The Metro Vancouver Regional District recently provided a snapshot of ALC applications in our region between 2006 and 2018. Like my findings in the previous decade, the regional district’s numbers show that exclusions —removing land from the ALR— only represented a small percentage of application which impact farmland.

All ALC applications in Metro Vancouver between 2006 and 2018. Select chart to enlarge.

I am interested to learn what the combined impact of these “non-farm use” approvals have been over the years on farmland and food production in our region. I am looking forward to reading the results of the KPU study.

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