Agriculture issues raised in telephone meeting

A recent tele-town hall meeting hosted by the Independent MLA for Cariboo North suggests those in the agriculture industry are concerned.

A recent tele-town hall meeting hosted by the Independent MLA for Cariboo North suggests those in the agriculture industry are concerned about changes to the inspection system, agricultural waste, carbon tax and invasive plants.

Callers representing 81 households dialed in to take part in the meeting held over the telephone.

MLA Bob Simpson says there is a new consultation process, by invitation only, looking at changing the system from using federal inspectors to a made-in-B.C. solution.

“The problem with the federal inspection agency is they only work business hours and many of our smaller abattoirs work evenings and weekends,” Simpson explains.

When he asked if anyone had been consulted on the new change, he heard that no one had, and 85 per cent of the people participating in the town hall meeting said they do want to be consulted.

People want to resolve the inspection issue so that it’s more accessible, Simpson says, but adds that the fundamental question is who will pay for the service.

“The government is looking at potentially a fee for service so it would be an additional cost for our abattoirs. That’s why they want to be involved with the consultation,” he explains.

When it came to agriculture waste, the conversation focused on a recent discussion paper that was released by the ministry of agriculture that caught everyone by surprise.

“The end date for giving feedback was March 31.

“I first heard about it at the beginning of March and basically my phone and e-mails lit up with people in our area who are very concerned about the direction our government is going in,” Simpson says, adding that many were telling him that regulations are already in place, but that they are not being enforced.

There’s a difference in size between dairy farms in the Fraser Valley and farms in the Cariboo, Simpson heard.

“People calling in were saying that the government should deal with the larger farms that have production issues, but not be punitive to the entire industry.”

When callers were asked if the carbon tax should be excluded for the agricultural industry or eliminated completely, 40 per cent of the callers said it should be excluded for agriculture, while 60 per cent thought it should be eliminated completely.

“One of the callers, Duncan Barnett from the Cariboo Cattlemen’s Association, said they are looking at a third alternative, which is can you return the tax to the industry so that the tax money is used to help the industry change practices?” Simpson says, noting it was good to have a third option put forward.

When the topic switched to invasive plants, it was gleaned that 95 per cent of the callers have them on their agricultural property, 30 per cent have received some level of government support to deal with the plants, and 97 per cent believe the government has to be more aggressive in dealing with invasive plants.

Simpson describes invasive plants as one of those “sneaky incremental” problems on the land base that make the land base unproductive and costs literally billions of dollars in lost economic opportunity.

“I’m hearing that people in my riding do not think we’ve got a handle on the problem at all and I will be taking that back to the minister of forests and lands,” he says.