Growers want clear definition of agri-tourism
Annual gathering provides face-to-face session with new CEO of land commission. By Judie Steeves
he new CEO of the Agricultural Land Commission in B.C. got an earful from growers at the 127th annual B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association convention in Kelowna at the end of January.
A definition of agri-tourism and at what point it’s no longer related to agriculture were issues brought up by growers following a talk by Kim Grout, who was appointed last fall to head up the ALC.
With a background that includes a childhood on a dairy farm and a degree in agriculture, as well as work in soils, Grout is no stranger to the farm, plus she spent the last 17 years in municipal government.
She told growers B.C. has only five per cent of its land in the Agricultural Land Reserve, and five per cent of that is in the Okanagan.
Work is underway to work out how much ALR land is actually under water or roads, she noted.
Getting ALC decisions online is a focus currently, and historic documents back to 1974 are being scanned so they are available for the use of the public. Already, applicants working with the ALC can follow the progress of their application online.
Enforcement is a concern, Grout admitted, saying more resources were being requested of the provincial government. Double or triple the current two officers are needed, she said. (The province has since announced a budget increase for the ALC of $1.1 million (33 per cent), a large portion of which will go toward improved compliance and enforcement. The commission is to develop and
implement what the government calls “a comprehensive approach,” that will involve additional hiring,” by Nov. 30.) As far as agri-tourism is concerned, Grout said the ALC’s mandate is to encourage farming on ALR land.
“We’re not interested in banning weddings. We’re out there at the request of
Kim Grout, recently-appointed chief executive officer of the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission.
local government and farmers. There are great examples of farmers doing agri-tourism to augment active farming. But, it’s important to watch what that’s doing to the validity of farming,” she said.
“The regulations are not as clear as they could be, but we’re working on it.” Glenmore-area orchardist Sam Di Maria responded that he has six RV parks within a short tractor ride of his farm now.
“I believe in agri-tourism, but something is happening. Four of those RV parks that had farms on them no longer have farms on them,” he said. “It doesn’t take long for a landowner to realize the farm doesn’t make the money the RV business makes. He keeps it green to retain his tax classification, but the intention is being subverted.”
Di Maria emphasized he’s not talking about cideries or meaderies, which are related to farming.
Okanagan ALC panel chair Gerry Zimmermann advised Di Maria and anyone else who has opinions about agri-tourism on ALR land to attend public hearings and make their feelings known to local councils. Chanchal Bal of Kelowna said enforcement is needed. “We have a large agri-tourism operation on areas of our land that are not farmable because of slopes or rocky areas. We grow risky crops; mostly cherries. We could lose the entire crop to frost or heat, so it’s a safety net. It also encourages sales of our farm products.
British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Spring 2016
“Don’t throw out the good with the bad,” Bal advised, adding, “It helps encourage young people to come into farming too.”
Zimmermann explained the ALC looks at where the income is coming from: weddings or the farm. As well, he said, they look at how it affects neighbours.
“Farming needs to be your primary goal; it’s not dependent on income. The land needs to be farmed first,” he said. However, Kelowna grower Amarjit Lalli told delegates he objects to income being considered in the equation. “If I’m actively farming I’ll never make more money than in agri-tourism, and I don’t see why that should be a problem as long as we protect the farm and it’s being farmed, and I’m making a living. We shouldn’t be using words like augmenting or subsidizing farming,” he said.
Zimmermann responded, “I meant if farming is your primary goal. It’s not dependent on income. The land needs to be farmed first.”
BCFGA president Fred Steele emphasized the ALR should protect farmers as well as farmland. He noted that the association submitted comments to the provincial
government’s white paper on the whole issue of agri-tourism on ALR land. There was also talk at the convention about how many growers would be willing to host groups of visitors interesting in learning more about farming by taking tours of active farm operations. A number expressed interest.
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