The Surrey Board of Trade provided feedback to the BC Government’s consultation on revitalizing the Agricultural Land Reserve and the Agricultural Land Commission. The deadline for responses was on April 27th.

Surrey will be the largest city in British Columbia. One-third of Surrey’s land base is dedicated to agriculture, comprising 9,290 hectares, with 53% farmed. The Surrey Board of Trade recognizes the value that agricultural activity brings to Surrey’s economy. It’s Agriculture Advocacy team explores, investigates and advocates on everything “from seed to shelf.” Our Agriculture Advocacy Team members have reviewed the BC Government’s Discussion Paper for consultation, and many have participated in the online survey.

“The ALR should be looked upon as a solid foundation for the business of agriculture in BC,” said Anita Huberman, CEO Surrey Board of Trade.

“The Surrey Board of Trade would like to see targeted reviews of ALR boundaries to ensure that the ALR is more accurate and includes land that is both capable and suitable for agricultural use to a proactive planning model that will enable ALR planning to strengthen ties to local government land use planning.”

In summary, the Surrey Board of Trade’s recommendations are:

1.     Removal of the two zone ALR designations. They diminish the importance of the ALR;

2.     Given that Surrey’s best agriculture land cannot access the Fraser River during dry Summer months when local rivers are very low, meeting water demand is a growing concern. Water licenses are challenging for Surrey and these have not been updated in many years. The process and the administration of licenses needs to be reviewed;

3.     To deter speculation, reform the school tax exemption to apply strictly to land classified as farm and remove the residential classification from the School Act (Section 30);

4.     To further deter speculation, Bare Land Trust ownership of ALR properties be audited and made available to the public;

5.     To encourage farming activities on farm land, change the minimum farm receipt threshold across all parcels, regardless of size, to $3,500; and create a tier system where farms that meet a higher threshold of gross farm receipts receive greater tax benefits.

The following should also be noted:

1.     There is approximately one-third agricultural land (roughly 7,500 acres) within Surrey that is under-utilized or non-productive. Most of this land is comprised of small parcels. Approximately 3,300 could be readily rehabilitated and made productive;

2.     The City of Surrey has developed a strong 2 for 1 agricultural land replacement policy, which helps to stem loss of agricultural land. However, policy and legislation is required to protect agricultural land from speculative development holding companies or those who would create “estates”;

3.     New farmers are having difficulty finding affordable land with which to begin their own farms;

4.     There is a disconnect between local food producers and major chains; in part due to concerns regarding consistency in delivering a certain level of product at a specified volume;

5.     The general public is not as aware of how much land is farmed in Surrey, the volume of produce produced, and the challenges local food producers encounter;

6.     Farming practices have and continue to evolve. Entrepreneurial opportunities exist by integrating agriculture with industry, eco-rehabilitation, circular economy, and more;

7.     A consistent supply of water for irrigation is needed in Surrey, particularly with climate change impacts and potential drought conditions during peak growing season.