The newly-formed Opposition Standing Committee for Agriculture made a stop in Williams Lake Thursday to hear from the region’s ranchers and farmers.
“We heard 12 presentations,” said MLA Lana Popham who chairs the committee comprised of New Democratic MLAs Robin Austin, Raj Chouchan, Katrine Conroy, Nicholas Simons and Independent MLA Vicky Huntington. “One of the main concerns we heard was around meat regulations and how difficult it is for farmers to work around them because of the lack of support and facilities in the area.”
Access to facilities is always a problem and the ability to sell meat in the domestic market has challenges, the committee heard from local presenters.
It could be something as simple as being able to drop animals off using farm plates on a vehicle and return to pick up the meat later using the same vehicle with farm plates, Popham said.
“It seems to be a simple problem to solve but obviously nobody is listening. We are happy to hear about things like that. Our committee can take them right back to the legislature.”
Concerns were also raised about the lack of skills around the trade of meat processing trade.
During his presentation West Fraser area rancher Scott McLeod said it’s cheaper to send his animals to Alberta for processing.
Popham said the government released a press release saying the export market has increased by $3 billion.
“That’s all well and good, but if you don’t focus on the domestic market you’re losing out,” Popham added.
Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association president Cuyler Huffman said his organization plans to lobby government about dam inspections on ranches.
“We don’t want water storage dam inspections to be the sole responsibility of ranchers,” Huffman told the committee. “Some people are draining dams to mitigate the risk factor, but then they lose the water.”
The association has recently completed an inventory of dams on ranches in the region, Huffman said he’ll forward to the committee.
Rancher Martin Rossman of Quesnel and hay producer Doug Hatfield of Prince George raised alarms about the Reckitt Benckiser (RB) Trees for Change program.
“Their headquarters are in England and they are coming into B.C. to plant trees to offset greenhouse gas emissions from their manufacturing operations,” Rossman said. “In 2006 they launched the program to plant two million trees on deforested land.”
Hatfield has been working on a business plan to produce compressed hay for sale in China and recently made a full asking price offer on some good farm land south of Hixon.
“I got a call telling me they had an offer from a numbered company backed by RB group they’d accepted,” Hatfield said. “It’s really happening. RB also purchased land by Stoner for $4.3 million to plant trees.”
Both men urged the committee to take up their concern.
“They aren’t buying land in England because it’s too expensive, but they can come here and find cheap land,” Hatfield said.
The committee plans to visit a different region every six weeks and will travel to the Comox Valley next.
At the end they’ll submit a report, but will also prepare reports after each regional meeting.