New Democrats propose policy to protect the ALR, closing loopholes caused by lack of legislation

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Prime farmland, that will be covered with trees and turned into a carbon sink

VICTORIA— New Democrat agriculture spokesperson Lana Popham is introducing legislation to address one of the latest challenges facing the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) — the practice of buying up prime farmland, covering it with trees and turning it into carbon sinks.

“Food lands are for food production and forest lands are for forests,” says Popham. “According to the Forest Practices Board, we have somewhere between 1 and 2 million hectares on B.C.’s timber harvesting land base that needs to be reforested. Planting trees on farmland for carbon offset programs is a loophole in the ALR that needs to be closed by legislation.”

“The Minister of Agriculture has been playing catch-up on this file for months. Because of his slow response, farmers in the Cariboo have lost B.C. agricultural opportunities to a corporation in the UK. Whose side is the Minister on?” said Popham.

The ALC’s mandate is to oversee and protect the Agricultural Land Reserve while encouraging food production. Currently, thousands of hectares of food lands are being planted with trees — contradicting the ALC’s mandate.

“This is an urgent issue that requires immediate action. At a time when there are serious droughts due to climate change in California and Washington, it has never been more important to protect our farmland and to bring it into production,” said Popham. “If the Protecting Agricultural Lands Act is passed, then the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) will have the power to examine all ALR land use and can intervene when breaches occur. This act will bring security and accountability to a ministry that desperately needs it.”

“Over 10,500 hectares of ALR land is being used for carbon offset schemes by one offshore corporation — and they don’t plan on stopping — in fact, this company has admitted to already planting 7 million trees on ALR land and plans to have 10 million planted by 2016,” says Popham. “The B.C. Liberals fail to see the urgency of this situation and are dragging their feet. While this is happening, farmers are watching land being bought and taken out of production all around them.”

Only 5 per cent of B.C.’s land is suitable for agriculture, which is why we have the Agricultural Land Reserve. The government isn’t acting quick enough to ensure that our provincial farmland is available for food production and not ruined to support a corporate greenwashing scheme.

The Protecting Agricultural Lands Act will be introduced today. The act would empower the Agricultural Land Commission to better monitor, regulate, and protect B.C.’s precious farmland.