RDN agricultural study released

First of two-part study details opportunities and challenges

Agricultural production has dropped in the Regional District of Nanaimo over the past 20 years, despite its excellent climate and soil conditions. However, even as the acreage under production declines, the farms that remain have become more profitable — with farms in the Nanoose Bay and Cedar areas of the RDN being the most profitable.

Those are some of the findings from a Regional District of Nanaimo Agriculture Area Plan report tabled at last Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting.

The report said while farms in the RDN are more profitable than those located in the Port Alberni area, but less profitable than in the Capital Regional District or Cowichan Valley.

In fact, many farms in the RDN are experiencing a near break even point in terms of profitability.

The report goes on to note that as the total farm area under production has decreased, the revenue per hectare has increased over the past 10 years, “indicating that farms are intensifying their production. This means there is a potential for growth and diversification in the agricultural sector.”

That would be a good thing, as only 30 per cent of land in the agricultural land reserve is actually being used for farming.

Some of the key barriers to farming identified in the report include increases in transportation and fuel costs in shipping off-Island, as well as increasing land prices, increased fertilizer and feed costs, labour shortages, an aging farm worker population and regulations limiting local processing.

RDN director Marc Lefebvre focused on this last point.

“When you look at the kinds of legislation there is to regulate farms, it’s quite daunting. I wonder to what extent as this moves forward there will be representations to the provincial and federal governments to do something about overly-regulated areas, if you will, in the area of growing and dealing with abbitoirs and animals? From reading the report, the regulations are humongous in terms of what governs us to grow food and raise meat for consumption.”

Chief administrative officer Carol Mason said this perception is widespread.

“We are not the only ones who will be looking for changes to regulations,” she said.

Lefebvre noted that because the RDN is situated on an island, transportation of food to or from the mainland is expensive, so it makes economic sense to grow more food for local consumption.

The study is the first of a two-part process being undertaken by the RDN.