One of the many problems presented to B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham by angry farmers this week was that the NDP government’s new regulations against dumping fill on farmland have included gravelling driveways to keep them passable in bad weather.
Under fire about elderly people or grown children not allowed to stay on family farms, the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) shutting down non-farm activities including a restaurant and a women’s addiction recovery centre, and other aspects of her overhaul of farm legislation, Popham has made a concession on the gravel issue.
“In rural B.C. there’s often cases where farmers need to add gravel onto their driveways annually, because of weather conditions and climate up in the rural areas, and the driveways are long. So they would need to bring on fill onto their properties, onto their farms, in quite large amounts,” Popham told reporters at the legislature this week.
“In our legislation we actually tried to stop dumping of garbage and fill on farmland. That doesn’t work in rural B.C. because it’s an annual process for them. So we are now requiring a letter of intent every time someone brings new soil or fill onto their property.”
The latest round of ministry consultations heard about this problem and Popham said she is fixing it, by getting rid of the letter of intent requirement and the fee that goes with it.
“We heard from rural B.C. that this would mean paperwork annually for them, and a fee annually for them. And so while we’re doing our regulations, we’re going to actually change that,” Popham said. “We’re going to tweak it, because that was great input, and that’s the great thing about doing the regulations while you’re consulting, because you can hear stuff, and then change it.”
More than 100 rural people descended on the B.C. legislature this week to push back on Popham’s changes, particularly the elimination of “zone two” farmland outside the prime farm areas of the Fraser Valley, the Okanagan and Popham’s home turf of southern Vancouver Island.
A major objection is housing restrictions. Popham’s revamped ALC restricts additional housing to farm worker use, and that has created cases where multi-generational farmers can’t provide accommodation for aging parents or young farmers taking over the operation.
Christine Watts of Loon Lake spoke to the rally, describing her life on a small ranch where her husband has lived for 62 years.
“We looked after, on the farm, both of his parents until just a few days before they passed away, each of them,” Watts said. “And we were hoping to do the same now as we age. And that doesn’t look like it’s going to be able to be the case, unless my son lives in our basement.”
Popham said some of the protesters are farmers, but others are living on agricultural land but not farming. She said there is a procedure with the new ALC, centralized in Burnaby as part of the overhaul, to review additional home applications.
“You can put an application into the Agricultural Land Commission, and you can have a non-adhering permit, so you can apply to have an additional home,” Popham said. “But of course the ALC uses the agricultural lens when they’re approving that.”
Popham also cited the example of house size restrictions aimed at preventing “mega-mansions” from being build on protected farmland. Big homes are popular with berry farming families in the Lower Mainland, so regulations were adapted to fit that need, she said.
On the Fraser Valley Gleaners recovery centre for women in an Abbotsford farmhouse, Popham was unmoved.
“It’s an Agricultural Land Commission decision,” Popham said. “They are an independent tribunal, and so I can’t interfere with any decision that they do. But they’re also very reasonable, and so two years is quite a bit of time to find a new accommodation.”