Vertical farms that grow crops in stacked trays rather than fields will soon be able to set up in the Agricultural Land Reserve without having to seek permission from the province.
“We are making changes to support agritech and intensive crop production, like vertical farming, on the Agricultural Land Reserve,” BC agriculture minister Lana Popham announced February 19.
The change, which takes effect in August, will ensure “clarity about which new innovative systems are allowed on the ALR.” The exact wording of the rule change, which will be made through an order-in-council, was not released.
Popham said the change addresses pressing issues such as food security, climate change, and dovetails with the province’s recovery plan following the devastating November floods.
Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun welcomed the change, which gives his city certainty as it recovers from last year’s floods and moves forward with AgRefresh, an overhaul of the city’s approach to managing farmland within its boundaries.
“We have been excited about this for quite some time,” he told Country Life in BC, noting that the city hit pause on AgRefresh in April 2018 while a task force Popham appointed prepared recommendations on revitalizing the ALR.
“We paused AgRefresh when we became aware that there were some changes being looked at,” he says. “Now that we know that the legislation will come into effect in August we will finish that off and move that all forward.”
But the change disappoints Sunshine Coast farmer Raquel Kolof, who has contested previous changes to the rules governing land use in the ALR. She says soil-based farms deliver greater environmental benefits than enclosed systems, which neither build soils nor sequester carbon.
“It appears that the Ministry of Agriculture is more interested in paving the way for corporations to earn big profits than they are fulfilling their mandate to preserve farmland,” she says. “They are throwing away one of our critical tools to grow healthy food and fight climate change and all for corporate profit.”
Opposition agriculture critic and Delta South MLA Ian Paton says he’ll be challenging the change in the legislature.