Happy to drop ‘critic’ label

Pophampledges to be a strong advocate for farming as B.C.’s latest agricultureminister.

By Judie Steeves A

lthough she admits she hasn’t looked beyond the current replant program for orchardists, new agriculture minister Lana Popham says she does support replanting to newer varieties, not only for tree fruit growers, but also for hazelnut growers. Being appointed to the agriculture portfolio is a dream come true for Southern Vancouver Island farmer and NDP MLA Lana Popham, who was appointed in July as the 14th agriculture minister in the past 24 years. She replaces Liberal Norm Letnick, who served twice in the post, most recently for three years.

“I’m very grateful to be in this position. I’ve always been a cheerleader for agriculture, and I can promise growers I will be a strong advocate for them,” she commented in an exclusive interview just weeks after her appointment.

She was agriculture critic for eight years prior to the appointment and admitted she was pretty pleased to be able to drop the ‘critic’ label. Before becoming an MLA, Popham says she had a vineyard and a vegetable business as well as managing some small-scale vineyards on the Island, and in the process, she learned what some of the many barriers are for farmers. In fact, that realization is what spurred her to run for office. “I entered politics because of my passion for agriculture. I helped develop the NDP agriculture platform,” she explained.

One plank in that is the Grow B.C. part of the mandate, which involves re- vitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve and getting young people onto farmland, she said, noting farmers’ average age is in the 50s today.

She noted that she’s travelled around the province talking to farmers during the past eight years and talked to lots of young people interested in getting into farming.

There’s also a need for more

agriculture ministry budget, she warned the first budget of the new government needed to be status quo, but there could be more room in the next one. Asked about grower issues such as bird predation and disgruntled neighbours, Popham said as a grapegrower she is aware of the issues. “The problem is the complaints from non-farmers,” she noted. There’s been encroachment on agriculture by subdivisions and in future there needs to be clearer boundaries between residential development and the ALR. She was confident that the real estate industry was on board with helping to educate buyers better about living next to farmland.

Lana Popham has the agriculture portfolio with the recently-elected NDP government.

agricultural extension and field services, so her government will be looking at that, she said. Domestic supply and demand needs to be addressed, although she admitted she supported the work done by the previous government on international markets, but it was at the expense of the domestic markets. Feed B.C. is the second plank, and refers to a procurement policy that would see government institutions such as hospitals required to move toward purchasing at least 30 per cent B.C.- grown products.

Popham said she envisions during local fruit seasons that B.C. hospitals will be serving B.C. fruit instead of fruit cups imported from other countries. “We should be supporting local farmers there. In the Lower Mainland alone, $50 million a year is spent on hospital meals.”

Asked about the additional costs there might be in the health ministry for that, she said there would be a corresponding increase in economic benefits, which makes it worthwhile overall. Buy B.C. is the third plank in the platform, a return to that promotional program for B.C. agriculture to replace the “piecemeal” Buy Local program the Liberals brought in.

Caucus is very supportive of agriculture and there are two other farmers with her around the cabinet table in Victoria, she said. Asked about an increase in the

As well, she expects the ministry will help educate people moving into agricultural areas that there are pluses and minuses to living adjacent to farms. She agreed that it’s very frustrating for farmers to lose a year’s effort to grow a crop when Canada geese or other birds annihilate it in a single night. “I’m aware of the damage birds can cause,” she said. Popham said she is also aware of problems this year surrounding worker accommodation and said she would be working with the B.C. Agriculture Council to resolve housing issues. Perhaps a change in regulations to allow temporary worker housing on the ALR, she wondered. “Labour is always an issue and housing is part of that.” On the other hand, she noted, “We don’t want sub-standard housing.” As far as the Agricultural Land Commission is concerned, she supports moving back to a single zone in the province instead of dividing it up. She also believes there should be a single panel for the ALC instead of the six regional panels which currently operate around the province because it would result in less opportunity for political interference in decisions. “Our mandate is to encourage farming and protect farmland so we’re looking at policies that support farmers. They need a stable market to sell into.

“Right now, the ALR is seen by some as a land bank for development. We need to turn that around,” she said decisively.

“People love to say farmers do it for the lifestyle but the bottom line is important,” she said.

British Columbia FRUIT GROWER • Fall-Winter 2017 15

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