Monday, April 7, 2014

The ALR - Moving Forward

REALTORS® with clients buying or holding land in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), who plan to have the land removed, should take note.
At a meeting with BC Real Estate Association on January 28, 2014, Richard Bullock, chair of the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC), made clear the ALC’s primary purpose is to:
• preserve BC’s ALR land, which is 5% of the province’s land base; and
• encourage farming on agricultural land.
Bullock explained that the ALC is an administrative tribunal whose members are appointed by government to:
• develop policy that encourages agriculture;
• determine the ALR boundaries;
• make decisions on applications to include and exclude land, as well as applications involving subdivision and non-farm uses within the ALR; and
• ensure local government land use planning is compatible with agricultural use of the ALR.
This mandate will be reinforced in coming years. “We are refocusing our program on farmers, not developers or speculators,” said Bullock.
Where is prime ALR land?
The top 1.1% of prime farmland with the highest capacity for growing food is located throughout BC.
Some prime farmland can be found in suburban areas including Richmond, Delta, Surrey, the Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island and the Okanagan.
The ALC plans to strengthen this arable land base and is hiring more staff to ensure this happens.
 “It’s considered a precious resource by 95% of respondents to a recent survey, who also approved of the ALC’s processes and purposes,” said Bullock, noting that in the past as much as 6,000 hectares (15,000 acres) have been removed from the ALR each year.
“They’re not making any more agricultural land,” explained Bullock. “Lands capable and suitable or growing food are a finite resource.”
ALC’s top priority
“There is a perspective that the ALR is too restrictive,” said Bullock. A top priority is to change the viewpoint that agricultural land is vacant land being held for development.
Advice for the real estate industry
“Support agricultural business and its contribution to the economy and quality of life,” advises Bullock. “Look at alternatives before looking to the ALR for non-agricultural land uses such as residential, commercial and industrial, and ensure REALTORS® are educated to knowledgeably advise clients about the ALR,” said Bullock.
Why is keeping the ALR important?
“There are three important benefits to keeping the ALR,” says Michael Goldberg, Dean Emeritus, Sauder School of Business, UBC, who describes himself as a market economist.
First, the ALR contains and constrains growth, and forces growth into urban areas, where it can easily be served by transit, explains Dr. Goldberg. “This is more efficient.”
Second, the ALR provides open space. This encourages recreational use since residents can cycle or walk alongside farmland.
Third, the ALR protects farmland, which is increasingly important for food security. We can’t rely on importing food from areas such as California, which is currently facing its worst drought in history
“When the market doesn’t work well, there is a case for market intervention,” says Dr. Goldberg. “I see the ALR as a reasonably cheap way to buy an option on the future.”
Did you know?
• In 2012, BC’s agrifood’s sector generated $11.7 billion in gross revenues and exported $2.5 billion worth of products to 130 countries.
• Farming and the processing of farm goods, transportation, warehousing, wholesaling and retailing generates $40 billion in revenue or 19% of BC’s GDP, and employs an estimated 300,000 British Columbians or 13.6% of BC’s labour force.

(Source REBGV)