B.C.’s agriculture minister Norm Letnick kicked off a three and a half-week consultation tour of the province in Williams Lake Thursday.
Letnick is hoping to gain feedback on Bill 24 regulations and how to improve the future of agriculture in the province, Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett said as she introduced him at the Williams Lake and District Chamber of Commerce monthly lunch meeting at Signal Point.
“I’m getting out to talk to farmers and ranchers in the Cariboo for two days,” Letnick said.
“Next week I’ll be in the Kootenays.”
Three weeks ago Letnick was in China singing a deal for free access for B.C. cherries, which Letnick said will be a major contribution to the economy.
His ministry is also pursuing free access agreements for blueberries and blueberries will be inspected this year.
“All those blueberry crops that people have been planting, especially down in the Lower Mainland, will hopefully have free access too.”
Foreign markets only happen in the Far East because of relationships because there is so much competition, Letnick said.
The Australians, Americans and people from Europe are all pursuing those markets as well.
During the next three years the goal for agriculture in the province is to reach $14 billion in sales, up from the present which is just over $12 billion, the minister explained.
“It’s important to expand the opportunities for British Columbians and we’re doing that in agriculture by expanding our markets,” Letnick suggested.
Bill 24 is amending the agriculture land commission and as part of the process of consultation on the regulations, the ministry has put a survey (http://fluidsurveys.com/s/BCGOV-ALCA/) on its website on July 22 containing 12 questions that invite public feedback until Aug. 22.
People who don’t have access to a computer can get a paper copy of the survey from their local MLA’s office.
“That way when we design the regulations this fall we’ll have a good sense where the public is, not only throughout the whole province, but in the different six regions,” Letnick said.
Highlands Irrigation’s Dick Ford told Letnick he’d like to see the province develop agriculture land leases.
“Much of the growth of family development in agriculture comes from tenure on land,” Ford said.
“The most recent example I can think of here were the agricultural land leases that people took up years ago and had the opportunity to buy.”
As the forest industry declines, some Crown land could be made available to qualified young agricultural people to get tenure at a reasonable rate to develop, have a home and family life, and perhaps even adding something like a woodlot license to it, he suggested.
“It seems to me a lot of the development of the Interior economy in the last 30 and 40 years came out of those agricultural leases.”
It would be a great way to move the economy out of the cities, Ford added.
Letnick responded that the ALC is going through region by region in the province and identifying lands that should come out of the Agricultural Land Reserve and lands that should go in.
“I wasn’t here in 1972 when the ALR was created,” he said.
“It was a kind of big broad brush and over the years as people have applied to change the boundaries or remove parcels of land, not too many people put parcels of land in, that big brush is becoming a little more specific.”