He’s green, but eager
Cabinet appointment came as a surprise, but province’s newest ag minister expects to learn quickly. By Judie Steeves
ndaunted by the fact he is British Columbia’s sixth agriculture minister in the past three years, Don McRae says he intends to stay in the post for a good,
He visited the Okanagan this spring and met with groups of tree fruit growers and the chairman of the Agricultural Land Commission, Richard Bullock.
McRae says he envisions taking his young family on an agri- holiday this summer, beginning in Central B.C. and working their way through this part of the province, visiting ranches, orchards and vineyards while camping along the way. He recalls coming to the Okanagan as a kid for the cherry season and enjoying the first of the other soft fruits as well. He has good memories of the small town atmosphere of driving through the valley, as well as of the fresh, tree-ripened fruit and warm weather of summer. “It’s stereotypical B.C.,” he commented.
A high school teacher for 15 years, and town councillor in Comox for three, McRae says his whole life has been a steep learning curve, so stepping into his new post will not be an insurmountable task.
It was quite rural growing up in the Comox Valley during the 1970s and many of his buddies had farms, although he just lived on an acre of land where he had chickens as a youngster, and where his folks had a large garden, he related. Agriculture, McRae feels, is of huge importance to all of B.C. While stability in the portfolio is important, he noted that he can only serve at the pleasure of the premier. There are others in caucus with agricultural backgrounds and they are helpful in providing him with the support he needs, he said.
“I want to make agriculture grow. That doesn’t mean I need to be an experienced farmer. I want to do a good job,” commented McRae.
Being named agriculture ministry was a surprise to him, he admitted. It wasn’t a post he’d asked for. However, while he was a council member, part of the economic development strategy was to sell the Comox Valley by marketing agriculture, both to tourists and to potential new residents.
Comox has the most successful farmers’ market on Vancouver Island, and restaurants celebrate the use of local products, he says.
McRae plans to meet with major grocery stores for guidance about implementation of a program encouraging the purchase of food grown as closely to home as possible. However, he added, it’s important not to out-think the consumer.
22 JUDIE STEEVES
Although he’s not quite dressed for the part, Agriculture Minister Don McRae is all smiles during a visit to Byland’s Nurseries in West Kelowna.
His staff has been asked to look at what the ministry can do to support farmers; perhaps by bringing the farmer/producer into the store to show off the local products produced, like in the farmers’ markets, he suggested.
Asked about the possibility of a policy of purchasing local food for government institutions such as hospitals, McRae said he’d never considered that, but if it costs more, that factor would have to be considered.
He says that within the first month in office, he had met with the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, the B.C. Agriculture Council, farmers’ institutes and fish farmers—listening and learning.
One of the most important tasks faced by his ministry will be dealing with the review of the Agricultural Land Commission completed late last fall by Bullock. However, he said much has happened since then in government, so no major decisions have been made in that time.
Now, he said, he’s looking forward to getting that report to his cabinet colleagues and to the public in the near future after that.
All he would say about the report is that it is a good one and that he’s pleased with the recommendations. “I want all farmers to realize I want to work with them on the challenges facing the industry,” he commented, adding, “Even the Canadian dollar affects the economics of farming, and climate change will also have impacts.”
Innovative, value-added work helps to expand new markets and bring new opportunities to industry, he said. The health benefits of local products are incredibly important, he said, and people are realizing they are tops in taste and nutrition.
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Summer 2011
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