Not enough land for farming: Popham

Farm policy needs to change if farmers are going to be able to make a living

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham and Barry Avis.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham and Barry Avis.

NDP agriculture critic Lana Popham tells a story about a phone call she got from Corky Evans one time, where the former MLA told her he had exciting news.

He had, he told her, grown a really great crop of potatoes.

Unimpressed, she thanked Evans for his big news.

“That’s not the exciting part,” he replied. “The exciting part is that I sold them.”

That, she said, stands as an example of what’s wrong with agriculture in British Columbia.

Although there’s a fair bit of land set aside for farming in the Oceanside area, only a small portion of it is actually being used to grow food, she said, and unless government policies change, it’s going to stay that way.

Speaking to a small crowd at the Rotary Hall in Qualicum Beach Saturday, Popham said farming is facing a difficult future in B.C. because of government policies that put a low emphasis on the importance of producing food.

“When I came through Langley, every single farm was being plowed up and every single farm had a sign for development on it,” she said.

“The newspaper there had ads for plots of land in the Agricultural Land Reserve for development that had not even been excluded from the ALR yet. They were banking on them being excluded.”

Parksville-Qualicum NDP nominee Barry Avis was also at the event and noted that only a tiny per centage of the land designated for agricultural is used for agriculture.

“The taxes aren’t right, the water rights aren’t right and the speculation laws aren’t right, so we end up with just 12 per cent of the agricultural land in this constituency actually being used to produce food.”

Avis said only two per cent of the food consumed in the area is actually grown here, a situation he sees as a potential opportunity for farmers.

“If that total was inceased to just 10 per cent, that would mean $20 million going to local farmers,” he said.

Popham agreed.

“There is a window of opportunity and it’s based on consumer interest in food,” she said. “We need to engage the four million people who eat three meals every day. If we can’t create a  strong domestic market for that in B.C., we’re doing something wrong.”