The City of Abbotsford is reviewing the Official Community Plan (OCP) and at the same time reviewing the bylaws in the rural area – a process termed Agrifresh. These are important processes as they determine the future direction of our community.
The city has a limited land base. Choices to zone land for one type of use necessarily exclude it from other uses. The OCP is about trade-offs. An often suggested trade-off is converting agriculture land into industrial land use. The suggestion is that we need more industrial land and at the same time that we need less farmland. This seems odd when agriculture is by far the largest industry in the city.
A study by the Chamber of Commerce found that agriculture now drives $2 billion in economic activity in Abbotsford. This is one third of the economic activity in Abbotsford. Every third customer that walks into a shop in Seven Oaks is because of agriculture, every third car in the Tim Horton’s line-up is because of agriculture. The study also identified 170 businesses in the industrial area that receive over 90% of their revenue from services provided to the agriculture production sector.
High quality soils, moderate climate and available water give Abbotsford a natural competitive advantage in agriculture production. And this advantage is permanent. Abbotsford has the highest farm gate receipts per hectare in North America. Farmers in Abbotsford produce high value crops and add value to those crops through packaging and processing primary production.
Agriculture output in Abbotsford, adjusted for inflation, has grown at an average of two per cent per year for the last 40 years. Agriculture would grow faster if there was more available land and larger land parcel sizes. But there is no extra land. For agriculture to grow farms have to make the land they have more productive. And they have had to utilize the smaller and more expensive lots in the ALR. In a sense agriculture is densifying in the same manner that the urban core is densifying.
Most businesses in Abbotsford’s industrial zone provide services to the agriculture sector or to the local community. The only strategic advantage for other industrial firms to locate in Abbotsford is inexpensive land and low taxes.
This strategy has not worked to attract new industrial businesses to Abbotsford. Shortly after the ALR was established in 1974 Abbotsford was permitted to rezone ALR land on the west side of Sumas Way to industrial. This was attractive industrial land – close to the border, freeway access and railroad access. Few industrial businesses bought the land so Abbotsford rezoned it to retail. In 2005 the ALC responded to a City of Abbotsford request for more industrial land by giving up 445 acres of farmland for industrial use. To date few industrial businesses have moved to Abbotsford and much of the land has yet to be rezoned industrial.
The OCP is about making choices. Choices about how the community will move forward. It makes little sense to take land from the business sector that is driving the economy, and has a competitive advantage to continue in the future, in order to give it to a business sector that is not responding to the short term benefits of inexpensive land and low taxes.