New ideas needed in B.C. agriculture, says minister

Minister of Agriculture Don McRae visits Oceanside to garner ideas

MLA Ron Cantelon and Minister of Agriculture Don McRae were in Parksville Monday to talk about food production.

MLA Ron Cantelon and Minister of Agriculture Don McRae were in Parksville Monday to talk about food production.

With a dearth of really good agricultural land at its disposal, British Columbians are going to need to think outside the usual agricultural box in order to ensure food security in the future, says B.C. Agriculture Minister Don McRae.

Speaking outside a meeting with agricultural producers at Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon’s office Monday, McRae said he was eager to hear people’s ideas about how Vancouver Islanders can grow more food and take steps towards food security.

“One of the things we need in British Columbia is to be innovative,” McRae said. “We have a limited land base in British Columbia, but we have some amazing individuals who are doing some great work.”

McRae was in Parksville at the request of Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, who urged him to talk to some of his constituents he believes have some good ideas in this respect.

“He’s looking at three ideas,” Cantelon said. “We have a guy from Lantzville who wants to know how he can best use his 40 acres in the Agricultural Land Reserve and we have a person with a very great idea that has been used in the United States for more intensive farming, utilizing greenhouses, hydroponics and even fish in a completely closed-loop system that’s environmentally friendly. The third guy is Gary Bentham, who wants to make a berry farm, so we are besieging the minister with these ideas.”

Although he declined to detail the specifics of the proposals, McRae said it’s crucial for British Columbians to think beyond traditional farming methods, in light of some significant challenges to the agricultural sector in the province.

“B.C. has some challenges and one of these is that land is very expensive, whether it is $100,000 an acre in the Okanagan or anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000 an acre on Vancouver Island,” he said. “As Minister of Agriculture, if we are not open to new ideas, how are we going to feed our people, now and into the future?”

Farming, he said, does more than just strengthen food security however.

“The farming lifestyle is so important,” he said. “It provides families with a great quality of life and keeps money in the local economy. It also does something that’s incredibly important — providing quality nutritious food that allows our residents to have a better quality of life and a longer quality of life.”

Because of the need for innovation in the agricultural sector, he said, it’s important that he be open to any new ideas.

“When I hear people saying they want to grow British Columbia, I have to be there to listen,” he said.