Opposition committee hears agricultural concerns in Cariboo

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DSC_0002Williams Lake, BC – The Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture and Food heard from Cariboo farmers and ranchers that government policy and regulations are limiting opportunities for agriculture in B.C.

This week’s visit to Williams Lake was the inaugural meeting of the newly established committee. “The Cariboo was chosen as our first stop because we recognise that this region must be a critical part of a long-term agricultural plan for our province,” says committee chair MLA Lana Popham. “The food production capacity of the Cariboo is enormous, but its potential is being thwarted by a government focused on other things.”

“The government is ignoring critical economic development opportunities in the Cariboo,” says Popham. “The minister was touting B.C.’s agrifood export numbers this week, but many presenters we heard from told us that there are policy barriers to domestic production.”

Presenters spoke on issues including challenges facing young farmers, predator control not being addressed, unworkable irrigation dam regulations, and the need for improved agricultural education in our schools. Other presenters spoke about the negative implications of dividing the Agricultural Land Reserve into two zones, stating that the Cariboo, Zone 2, should be considered just valuable for BC’s food security as Zone 1.

Other presenters spoke about the tens of thousands of acres of farmland being taken out of agricultural production for foreign carbon sequestration projects, which have left local ALR land with no opportunity for economic return for B.C. for a century.

“The government knows about these problems,” says committee vice-chair and Independent MLA Vicki Huntington. “But the reality is that for many farmers in the Cariboo, things aren’t getting easier. They’re getting harder.”

Popham says meat regulations are one issue where the government has yet to find working solutions for this region.

“The Minister of Agriculture thinks they’ve fixed BC’s meat regulations, but we heard the opposite,” says Popham. “There are incredible problems for meat producers and processors. People are still walking away from meat production or sending the opportunities outside our province. Skilled labour is needed but we hear nothing about that in the government’s jobs plan.”

“We’ve also heard from young farmers who are trying to succeed, but they’re finding that there are not just barriers to entry, but barriers to success. The government could be doing so much more to support a long-term vision for agriculture in B.C.,” says Huntington

“What we saw this week is that there is an incredible appetite in the agricultural community to have their voices heard,” says Popham. “There are a lot of positive community agricultural projects in the Cariboo, but if the government is serious about agriculture in B.C., there are policies that need to be fixed today. Our committee is looking forward to bringing the issues of the Cariboo into the legislature over the coming weeks.”

The committee’s next stop will be in the Comox Valley in May. Details of that visit will be released soon.