Strategic Agricultural Plan
Prepared for the Municipality of North Cowichan by George Penfold, M.Sc., P.Eng., MCIP, Westland Resource Group, Comox & Paul Guiton, GroundWorks Strategic Marketing Solutions, Vancouver.
May 27, 2001
February 20, 2013
Table of Contents
Farming has been a mainstay of the community and economy in North Cowichan from its settlement in the 1850's. Agriculture continues to make a vital contribution to the employment and economic base, with direct employment (1996) of over 400 directly and generating annual farms sales of approximately $13 Million. Of the Municipality’s 20,400 hectares, over 6,250 hectares are in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) and 4,793 ha. are farmed.
However, farmers have encountered growing threats to their economic and social stability characterized by a declining land base, development pressures, burdensome regulations, environmental constraints, competitive disadvantages with their Mainland counterparts, etc.
Recognizing that the survival of agriculture on Vancouver Island depends on developing a more competitive base, and stronger consumer support, farmers in North Cowichan, through the Cowichan Agricultural Society (CAS), in 1998, assisted in launching an initiative to establish the Island Farmers Alliance (IFA), a common agricultural front, to protect and advance their interests.
With the launching of the District of North Cowichan’s Official Community Plan review, the Municipality decided to include, as a priority, the development of a Strategic Agricultural Plan, recognizing not only the importance of agriculture to the economy but also the vital role of the farming community in its social structure.
The study and the associated community consultation process has been directed by a Steering Committee consisting of Auke Elzinga, Geoff Bruce, Ian Woike, Erin Kelly, Dave Gronlund and David Weibe from the agricultural community, Wayne Haddow and Barry Smith, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Niels Holbek, Land Reserve Commission, Ruth Hartman, Community Futures, Chris Hall, Planner, and George Seymour, councillor, District of North Cowichan, have guided the project. The Steering Committee worked with the consulting team of George Penfold, Westland Resource Group, and Paul Guiton of Ground Works Strategic Marketing Solutions, who prepared the Strategic Plan.
The Strategic Agricultural Plan identifies issues that threaten or present obstacles to the future stability of the agricultural industry in the Municipality and the region and opportunities that can help strengthen the agricultural community and economy. It proposes goals, objectives and actions to address these issues and opportunities, and provides direction and co-ordination for actions of the District of North Cowichan, the Agricultural Society and producer and other groups that have activities related to agriculture. The Strategy promotes an entrepreneurial spirit for agriculture, and development of the small farm sector based on local marketing. It has a Vision Statement, 6 main Goals and approximately 60 proposed action steps to achieve them.
The Vision is:
The agricultural sector in the Cowichan Valley will be healthy economically, socially and environmentally. It will consist of a medium scale farm component that markets through traditional commodity systems, and a small-scale farm component that markets both basic production and value added products to local and regional markets. The industry will be noted for its diversity and its support for, and from the community.
The Goals and Objectives are:
Implementing this Strategy is complicated because the goals are broad, and affect many community and government organizations. The Strategy recommends that the Plan be adopted as part of the Official Community Plan, and that a Committee be established to advocate for implementation of the strategy, coordinate implementation actions, and review progress on the Strategy and report on a regular basis. Some of the key organizations that will have to be involved are:
In addition, some of the actions are provincial in scope, and will have to be implemented through support of the Vancouver Island Agri-Food Action Plan and Trust Strategy, and other provincial level initiatives.
North Cowichan Agricultural Strategy
Agriculture in North Cowichan is subject to many of the same pressures as agriculture elsewhere in B.C. and across Canada. These pressures include low commodity prices, high input costs, land loss to urban and rural residential development, and global competition in the market encouraged by international trade agreements such as the Canadian U.S. Trade Agreement, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, WTO, etc. While these realities are a matter of local, national and provincial political concern, responsibility for solutions to these challenges rests primarily at the provincial and national level. (See Appendix A)
Issues that can be addressed through local planning and decision-making in North Cowichan as well as by provincial initiatives include:
At a local level, the community, government and both local and regional farm organisations can address these concerns. They are the focus of this Strategic Plan for Agriculture in North Cowichan.
A Strategic Plan represents a commitment for change. It makes choices between a range of possible issues and opportunities, actions that can be taken, and organisations that can take action. For an agricultural strategic plan to be successful, choices have to be agreed upon, the implications have to be understood, and the responsibility for implementation shared between local and regional governments, farm organisations, growers, marketing agencies, retailers, distributors and processors and consumers. The ingredients of an industry leading initiative are present in the District of North Cowichan and the Cowichan Valley. These include: a good resource base, a dynamic agricultural community including several farm and producer organisations, a farmers market, an agricultural awareness initiative, a community land trust and an industry base that includes some leading edge initiatives such as combining grape and wine production with tourism. Also, the commitment by the District of North Cowichan to undertake the development of a strategic agricultural plan provides both a foundation for and a momentum toward future change.
The purpose of this North Cowichan Agricultural Strategy is to focus and co-ordinate decisions and actions of the participating and non-participatory organisation(s). The Strategy sets direction for the municipality, the Agricultural Society, key producers and other community groups that can influence the future of agriculture in the District.
This Strategy places most emphasis on taking advantage of opportunities and competitive advantages that exist in the area and on addressing local situations that result in reduced competitiveness relative to other comparable areas. This means that the Strategy does not focus on issues such as tariffs or trade practices that are not under local control and that are difficult to influence through local actions. Although these issues are important to the future of the industry, there are other organizations such as the Island Farmers Alliance and commodity groups that are better positioned to influence senior government decisions and actions. This Strategy therefore focuses on cooperating with these organizations to address general issues, and on the appropriate goals, objectives and actions to address issues such as land use planning and control, services and infrastructure for local agriculture, producer training, public education, value added processing, local marketing etc. that are under local control or can be addressed or directly influenced by local actions.
Specifically, this Strategy:
The Strategy was developed between July 2000 and May 2001 through a process of review of past studies and other related information; consultation with the community though open houses, public meetings and focus group activities; direct consultation with producers, processors, and agency representatives and circulation of a Draft Strategy to involved organizations and Agencies. A Steering Committee consisting of members of the community, local government and farming associations guided the project (see Appendix A for a complete list of participants). The Steering Committee worked with a consulting team of George Penfold, Westland Resource Group, and Paul Guiton of GroundWorks Strategic Marketing Solutions.
Key to the support for, and success of, the North Cowichan Agricultural Strategy will be the willingness of the District of North Cowichan, the Regional District, local agricultural organisations, other community and government organizations, the farm community and the community at large to be involved. They will have to commit their time, energy and resources to implementing the strategies that are outlined in this document.
A general description on the current agricultural industry is attached as Appendix C. A more complete description is available in the publication "District of North Cowichan Agriculture Overview" published by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. These statistics are based on the 1996 census and give a picture of what agriculture was like at that time. In total, there were 242 census farms, farming 4,793 ha, and generating $13.09 million in gross sales. Average farm size was 19.8 ha., and 34% were under 4 ha. in size. This "data" does not give a clear picture of the pressures on the industry, how farmers are responding to those pressures, and or where the industry is headed. As part of the process of gathering background information, we reviewed the results of the Agricultural Societies’ March 2000 forum, contacted key individuals in the community who represent various sectors or activities related to agriculture, and toured the area with the District Agrologist. In addition, a recent survey of producers in South Cowichan, published by the B.C. Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries was used to examine regional trends. From those sources and from feedback at the initial public meeting in November 2000, we developed the following "picture" of agriculture in the North Cowichan and the Cowichan Valley. This picture is based on the views expressed by the community at the events and opportunities described above.
A list of the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints related to agriculture in North Cowichan was created based on background information and input from the public workshops and focus groups. The following section summarises the major themes identified from this process:
North Cowichan farmers offer superior quality products, especially compared to imports from outside Canada.
If agriculture is to be successful over the long term in the Cowichan Valley, it must be successful at all levels: the individual farm, commodity sectors and "industry" including processing and sales. From the public consultation, it is clear that there are serious concerns about the future of agriculture in the Cowichan Valley. There are many questions about the future of agriculture in the District such as: What will agriculture look like 20 years from now? What will the key sectors be? Where in the District will it be located? How will production be marketed? .
Although the consultation process did not focus specifically on development of a Vision Statement, the issues that have to be addressed and the opportunities that were identified as priorities create a vision for agriculture. The Steering Committee developed the following statement that was supported at the final public consultation: (the Vision is expressed as a statement of the agricultural sector at a future point in time – in this case, in 15 to 20 years):
The agricultural sector in the Cowichan Valley will be healthy economically, socially and environmentally. It will consist of a medium scale farm component that markets through traditional commodity systems, and a small-scale farm component that markets both basic production and value added products to local and regional markets. The industry will be noted for its quality, diversity and its support for, and from the community.
If this Vision is to be achieved, answers to the questions posed above are necessary, and actions to implement those answers will have to be taken. The following section of this report provides recommendations for actions and responsibility for implementation of them. The Goals, Objectives, Actions and Responsibility that follow form the basis for a long-term strategy to realise the Vision outlined above.
The following Goals were developed based on the input from the public consultation and Steering Committee. They are based on organizing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Constraints analysis into specific themes and translating those points into the Vision Statement and general Goal statements. Specific issues or opportunities are then addressed through Objectives under the respective Goals.
Developing a supportive local planning framework is essential if Agriculture is to change and grow stronger over the long term. The current review of the Official Community Plan in North Cowichan provides an excellent opportunity to provide the necessary connections between goals and objectives for agriculture, and the municipalities land use plan. Planning for agriculture in the past has been based on the assumption that the most desirable form of agricultural production is medium to large-scale "commercial" farms that generate enough revenues to support at least the farm operator, if not the entire household. Smaller farms that do not support an individual or a household have been referred to as "hobby farms" and have generally been at best seen as an activity to be accepted to the extent that it already exists, but not to be encouraged. Information such as the Canada Land Inventory, with its emphasis on cereal crops, formal research programs, the agricultural service sector, federal and provincial assistance and advisory programs and provincial and most local plans and policies have focussed on commercial agriculture. That approach is understandable given that the majority, 75% or more, of the general food supply comes from "commercial" farms.
However, the above assumption of what agriculture is, or should be, does not fit well with the reality of North Cowichan or the Cowichan Valley. In the Agricultural Land Reserve within the District, only 243, or 18.4% of the land parcels are 8.0 ha. (20 acres) or larger. Most (843 or 63.6%) of parcels in the ALR are between 0.4 ha. And 8.0 ha. (1 to 20 acres). The remaining 239 parcels (18% of the total) are less than 0.4 ha. (less that 1 acre) and are most likely in residential use. The distribution of these parcels within zones of the current Zoning Bylaw is shown in Table 1.
The A2 and A3 zones permit agriculture, but do not permit "feedlots, fur farms, piggeries, poultry farms, or mushroom farms – Bylaw No. 295012(4)". The A4 (Rural Resource) Zone does not permit agricultural use, only forestry. (See APPENDIX E)
Most of the consultation discussion focussed on the details of the OCP and Zoning Bylaw that need to be addressed as part of the current review. The objectives protect current "commercial" and small-scale agriculture; encourage new small-scale, value added and sales uses; as well as diversifying the agricultural and economic base in rural areas. Current Official Community Plan (OCP) and Zoning policies include most of the lands that have agricultural potential. Approximately 82% of the larger parcels and 80% of the smaller parcels in the ALR are permitted to have agricultural uses. In addition, all small rural lots should be allowed to have agricultural uses regardless of their ALR status. The type of agriculture permitted on these lots should be compatible with adjacent rural residential and other rural uses. Agricultural lands need to be protected from removal from ALR status. (See Appendix F)
As part of the OCP and Zoning Bylaw review, consideration should be given to including ALR areas that are currently not permitted to have agricultural use, and that are not restricted by adjacent development or other factors, in designations and zones that permit agricultural uses. Larger parcels should be maintained for long-term agricultural use. Creating new lots for relatives should not be permitted. Allow only one house on lots of 4 hectares or less, and require houses to be located near the frontage of the lot rather than in the middle of the lot ("home base" concept.) A second home for farm purposes (e.g., joint farm ownership, farm labour) should be allowed on lots larger that 4 ha. Where several houses are required for a large farming operation, homes could be clustered, communal septic waste treatment used, and titles could be held in strata. In addition, adequate setbacks for new housing adjacent to agricultural areas, and for new agricultural uses adjacent to housing should be required. Setback obligations should be shared. Critical urban/agriculture edges should be identified, and buffering techniques used to lessen the potential for land use conflict.
Diversification of agriculture means that some land not suitable for traditional crops could be suitable for other uses such as grapes, or raspberries. For example, there are areas in the District that are not zoned for agricultural use and are not in the ALR that have potential for grapes and berries. These areas may have slope or drainage limitations that result in a low capability rating for field crops, but do have characteristics that give them good potential for uses other than field crops. This land could be an important resource for future agricultural diversification and growth. (See Appendix D)
There may also be rural areas where agricultural and other businesses such as equipment sales, processing, greenhouses, mushroom farming or fish farming could be establish on non-agricultural lands. Business that is related to agriculture, but which is not primary land based production, should be directed to those areas unless they are part of the farm operation. The municipal plan should allow for these uses in the rural area.
Farm and smallholdings should be permitted to support activities that are part of the household. Commercial, trade or other activities that are "home based" business should be supported. Upper limits must be defined after which the business would have to relocate to a commercial area. (e.g., number of employees, building area etc.) Also, the municipal plan should provide for the opportunity for several farmers to combine value added processing and/or marketing on one farm. For example, one farm could have a commercial kitchen that would be used by several farms. A farm with a good "farm gate" location could retail for several farms.
Agriculture needs to be recognized as an important component of the local economy and community, especially when making public decisions. The farm community could support the election of agricultural representation to council, and agricultural representation on advisory committees should be encouraged. Agricultural education and awareness initiatives are also needed to keep council and committees informed about emerging ideas and changes, and problems have to be addressed. For example, the Agricultural Society could have an annual event or tour for council and committees. The Agricultural Society could also have a land use committee in place to monitor significant changes in municipal and provincial policy and make representation to the Regional Board, District Council and/or the province as necessary. The municipality could consider greater focus on agricultural issues through mechanisms such an Agriculture Advisory Committee.
Objective 2: Provide More Opportunities for Small Farms in The OCP, Zoning Bylaw
In North Cowichan, the average farm size in 1996 was just less than 50 acres, but one third of all farms were less than 10 acres. As of 1996, the gross sales from farms in North Cowichan (1995 dollars) were:
Source: B.C. Stats
Small farms, in terms of both land and revenue represent a sizeable proportion of North Cowichan’s agriculture industry. At the same time, gross revenues (not net income) for 82% of these farmers are less than $25,000. That means small farms do not generate enough revenue to support a "household" or individual without income from other sources such as off-farm employment, or a second business that is not part of the farming operation. These so called "part-time" farms are part of the structure of agriculture in North Cowichan, and represent a desired lifestyle by many rural residents. Their economic value to the community and to the industry is significant. A recent study of smallholdings (4 ha. or 10 acres or less) showed that in total, reported sales are approximately half of the value of farms larger than 10 ha. In other words, one third of the value of farm products sold comes from smallholdings. Given the large number of smallholdings and the limited opportunities for agriculture to expand on large holdings, a focus on small farms is both appropriate, and a significant opportunity.
A number of concerns have been expressed about the need to maintain a critical mass of agricultural activity within the District. The main concern is that, if agriculture is permitted to decline in the area, it will reach a point where it becomes even less viable to farm, as a result of increased costs to get farm inputs from non-local sources, and to market to destinations outside of the region or beyond Vancouver Island. The "worst case" scenario is that, in the long run, agriculture may cease to exist as a commercial land use.
Much of the discussion in this planning process has focussed on providing more support for existing small farmers and attracting new (young) farmers into the district. A healthy small-scale farm sector would not only support a desired lifestyle by many rural residents, and create additional part and full time employment opportunities, but the demand for "inputs" and services would help insure that these services would remain in the region over the long term to serve both small scale and "commercial" scale farms. At present, there is little assistance available to these small farms in terms of research, business and farm management, or marketing. The focus of strategies to help small farms is to address these gaps.
One of the greatest challenges facing the agriculture industry is effective marketing. Effective marketing includes, identification of product opportunities, market research, identification of potential outlets, direct marketing and flexibility to market locally within the regulated commodities.
The importance of marketing is endorsed in the literature regarding challenges facing agriculture across North America, provincial and Island Farmers Alliance initiatives, the South Cowichan survey and feedback from the public workshops in North Cowichan. Marketing issues are quite different, depending on the size of operation.
For the larger operations, key issues have been identified as:
Small farmers often do not own quota that permits them to operate within the Marketing Board system. In addition, they do not have the resources to market their products to larger wholesale and retail chains. Small farmers are faced with:
Based on the results of the South Cowichan study, the preferred method of marketing by small farmers is direct sales to consumers through "farm gate" or off farm sales or farmers markets. Local marketing-related initiatives could be helpful to smaller farmers to increase production and sales volumes and over the long term, to help put unused farmland back into production. Warmlands Cooperative is one local initiative that helps coordinate and facilitate marketing of local production.
If local marketing and value added is to be successful over the long term, quality control, especially with meat products will be necessary. To ensure quality control, either a strong system of local quality standards and inspection, or federal inspection of livestock and poultry processing facilities may be necessary.
The workshops also identified agri-tourism as offering significant potential for the agriculture sector in North Cowichan. While it is important to maintain farming as the primary focus of agricultural activity in the District, there are also a number of benefits to agri-tourism:
There appear to be opportunities to tie local agricultural production with food consumption in local institutions, especially School District #79, which offers work experience, meal programs as well as home economics and chef training classes.
Concern about the lack of political and public awareness of the needs of the industry, and the challenges the industry faces was expressed may times by participants in the Strategic Planning process. Increased awareness was viewed as part of the solution to several issues. Part of the importance of increased public and political awareness of agriculture is related to gaining public acceptance and support for changes to government policies, programs and regulations that do not adequately support the industry or the needs of farmers. It is important that changes to local and regional planning and economic development initiatives are supportive of the local industry. For example, agriculture is on the front lines of the environment. If properly managed, it should be considered an environmental asset! In addition, increased public awareness of agriculture is linked to expanded opportunities for local marketing, the ability of the small farm sector to expand, and the opportunity for the "commercial" farm sector to access trained labour and new investment in terms of both capital, as well as new entrants into farming as a career. Tours are an excellent opportunity for small farms and farm gate sales operations to become known in the community and to expand their marketing potential.
"Promoting Agriculture in the Classroom" is one opportunity to inform youth about the farming industry. The School District has not been aware of this program or the resources available. The Agriculture in the Classroom representative has been sent the contact names/numbers for the School District. There is a need for additional sites offering farm visits in the program as only one farm in the region is identified as an Ag. in the Classroom resource.
Youth can also be involved by placing them on the farm for a school project or providing summer employment. In addition, the Agricultural Society should have a youth or 4-H recognition event annually. The farm community should also participate in Career Days and other career events that are hosted by schools and/or the school District.
The above five objectives and others referred to the IFA are not unique to the District. A coordinated approach should be developed for Vancouver Island. The municipality, real-estate board, society and other groups can use materials and approaches developed by the IFA and MAFF to inform the local community.
Managing soil and water is especially important in this region. Although North Cowichan is located in a relatively high annual rainfall area, summer rainfall during the growing season is limited. Lack of a "natural" water supply is a significant restriction to production. Irrigation, and soil management to retain water is essential to a strong agricultural economy in the region. However, access to water is limited through lack of available licensed capacity in watercourses, cost of accessing aquifers through wells, and lack of storage of winter rainfall.
Access to both sufficient quality and quantity of land and water are two fundamental requirements for agriculture. Along with access comes a responsibility to manage those resources wisely, not only to have a successful farming enterprise, but also to leave those resources in the same if not better quality and quantity for future generations. Different areas of the District have better access to quality water for irrigating. There is a need to determine the main areas where water deficiency is a problem and focus on water access in those areas. The best means of doing this is to develop a water management plan for the region. This plan should not be based on the assumption that the municipality should be expected to provide drinking quality water for irrigation. Drinking quality water is not required for toilets, or for irrigation. However, a system of separate grey water discharge would allow grey water to be utilized for irrigation.
Water and land are not exclusive to agriculture. Soil eroding from farmland can severely reduce water quality, and impact other uses such an industry and recreation, and other resources such as fish habitat and productivity. These impacts affect other economic activities in the community. At the same time, there is concern that agriculture is being over regulated and that some ideas e.g., all watercourses should be required to have cattle fencing, are too restrictive. Further research and pilot projects are necessary to find the best management approaches to maintain surface water quantity and quality in agricultural areas.
Because farmers are resource users, food producers and users of many different energy and other inputs, they find themselves subject to a wide range of federal, provincial regional and local regulations. These are usually established to protect the land and water resource, to protect the food consumer, or to protect the farmer. Most of these regulations are appropriate and accepted by the agricultural community. However, as society’s values change, and new concerns or issues are identified, public and political reaction can often result in requirements that are costly, ineffective and a burden to all farmers. In some cases regulations are used when education, or incentives could be used with equivalent effect and far less cost to the public and farm community.
Continuous monitoring of emerging legislation, policy and regulation is necessary to identify situations where a more proactive or cooperative approach could be used rather than regulation. This is an onerous task, and for the most part, is well beyond the capacity of the local agricultural community and organizations to address. Provincial and federal farm and commodity interest groups are best equipped to take on this challenge.
However, these groups cannot effectively monitor policies or regulations that are brought forward by municipalities. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries generally monitor municipal actions dealing directly with agricultural land use and management under the province’s "Right to Farm" (Farm Practices Protection Act) legislation. Even with that legislation, there is a need for local farmers and farm organizations to be aware of the changing regulatory environment at all levels, and especially regionally and locally, to make sure that they have the opportunity to provide alternative approaches when regulation is not an appropriate solution to the issue.
Because this Strategy set out a vision that sees agriculture as being diverse and healthy economically, socially and environmentally, the proposed actions are also diverse and involve over 20 government and other local organizations. Advocating for, and monitoring the implementation of the proposed actions will be necessary if the vision is to be realized. This will require dedicated attention by influential individuals over the time frame proposed for the Strategy. It will also take the dedication of committed individuals and organizations in the community, working together to implement the Strategy.
A first step in this implementation process would be the adoption of the Strategy as part of the Official Community Plan by the District of North Cowichan. This would keep focus on the Strategy as the District address its land use plan and other decisions in the future.
A second step is to provide a structure that will allow organizations to work toward implementation of the Strategy. The key to working together is to keep a Strategy Steering Committee together for the 5-year implementation period. This Committee should be comprised of representatives from key organizations involved in recommended actions. The District of North Cowichan should be the host for and take responsibility in organizing this committee. At a minimum, representation should include:
This group should meet at a minimum, on an annual basis, and representatives should prepare "updates" on those actions for which they have specific responsibility, and proposed next steps. Any issues related to implementation, or new actions that are needed should also be included in a meeting agenda.
Finally, there are many areas where the propose actions of this Strategy reflect the recommendations of the Vancouver Island Agri-Food Action Plan and Trust Strategy. If these elements of the North Cowichan Strategy are to be successful, the Vancouver Island Strategy will also have to be successful. The Island Farmers Alliance will need the support of local organizations to implement the Vancouver Island Plan.
Significant livestock commodities within the Valley’s agricultural mix are dairy, chicken and egg production. There are also several vegetable, potato and cranberry producers in the area. These commodities are organised in British Columbia under marketing boards. These organizations establish production quotas approximating market demand and establish prices based on cost-of-production formulas.
Marketing Boards have served to maintain orderly markets in British Columbia and across Canada by maintaining set prices to the farmer, allowing reasonable profits and a stable environment for long term planning. However, some aspects of the supply management system are under review by the British Columbia Marketing Board, because:
The limitations to the system have also been identified in recent submissions to the BCMB regarding quota allocations.
However, there are no indications that the Provincial government would consider dismantling supply management. The only consideration appears to be whether the system can be made more flexible and inclusive.
At the international level, supply management is under attack, notably by the U.S. and New Zealand. They claim that the quota system – especially for dairy products, unfairly restricts their access to Canadian markets.
On the other hand, Canada’s Minister of Agriculture has consistently supported the supply management concept and, at present, the system has been ruled acceptable for the orderly marketing of domestic products, but may have to be reviewed for export markets.
Initially the WTO ruled that Marketing Boards price setting practices constituted a subsidy to the industry. This initial negative ruling by the WTO Panel was subsequently overturned on appeal.
However, the US, among others, has vigorously argued that the quota system constitutes a non-tariff barrier to trade, and it can be expected that Canadian supply management of key commodities will continue to come under international pressure.
BC Government Marketing Policy
It is not clear how the new BC Government will respond to these pressures. They have not yet established a policy position for agriculture.
On the other hand, they have eliminated government support for the Buy BC Program. That program focussed on labelling and promoting BC products in the marketplace so consumers would have an informed choice of buying locally or import. If the program is dropped, there may be a benefit to the farmers market and on farm sales as they are recognized outlets for locally produced products.
Vancouver Island Quota
Because of the centralized planning process inherent in the supply management system, some Vancouver Island producers feel that current quota allocations do not reflect the needs of the local market, nor the geographic realities of the costs and uncertainties of dependence on ferries for access to major processors.1
This is particularly an issue for egg production. According to the Island Farmers Alliance, recent quota allocations have fallen short of the appropriate levels to meet local demand. From the focus group comments, it appears that there are two markets for eggs in the Comox Valley. One market is through conventional channels, under the auspices of the BC Egg Marketing Board, as described above. However, there are also direct farm sales to consumers of niche products, such as free range or free run eggs. A 1996 study of consumer egg purchases indicated that, province wide, as much as 10% of eggs are marketed direct outside the Marketing Board system.
Between 1941 and 1995, producers in various regions of Canada benefited from a Feed Freight Assistance (FFA) Programme, to offset significant different feed costs in different locations.
This programme was terminated in the 1995 Federal budget, but a transitional Feed Freight Assistance Adjustment Fund (FFAAF) was announced. British Columbia received 32.3% of the national allocation for this fund and the first instalment of several was paid in 1996, including a proportion earmarked for Vancouver Island producers. Apparently, payments from that fund have been made directly to farmers
The net result is that Vancouver Island livestock producers are experiencing markedly higher feed costs than previously, although, it may be argued that part of the increased cost has been offset by access to the FFAAF Fund.
It is generally accepted within the BC agriculture industry that Canadian food safety standards are higher than those in the United States and, especially than those in Mexico or Chile.
This is usually argued in the context of pesticides and other production or processing aids that are permitted in these countries but are not permitted in Canada. We have not seen reliable comparative studies that show the precise balance of permitted and disallowed products between the various countries. However, it appears that BC consumers have not understood or interpreted any differences in standards as reflecting better quality of BC products. In consumer research, conducted for Buy BC in 1996, only one third of the respondents felt that BC products are much better quality than imports.
Industry observers – especially in meat production and processing – feel that media publicity surrounding health concerns of British livestock (Foot and Mouth and "Mad Cow" disease) have heightened consumer awareness and sensitivity to food safety issues in Canada. However, we are not aware of any empirical research to establish this as a fact. Equally, industry observers expect that this sensitivity will abate over time in the absence of further outbreaks.
On the other hand, trends towards organic products do seem to indicate heightened awareness and desire for the highest standards, at least when it comes to the absence of artificial additives and processes.
Meat products require federal inspection in order to be shipped outside the local production area. Yet inspection facilities are extremely limited outside the major population areas. The Island Farmers Alliance, along with other producer groups, has identified direct marketing, either at the farm or at farmers’ markets, as a worthwhile strategy to diversify producers’ customer base and to improve margins by simplifying distribution to the consumer.
However, for a number of commodities inspection is required before products can be sold to consumers. Yet inspection facilities are not available to direct farm marketers, which severely limits their ability to develop an attractive range of consumer offerings.
Genetically Modified Foods
Recent developments in biotechnology have led to considerable debate about the health and nutrition implications of genetically modified foods. At present, Canadian legislation does not require identification of genetic modification, but there are strong consumer movements in favour of this step, which has already been adopted by a number of countries worldwide. Retailers are also paying close attention to this issue, with some international companies developing guidelines for the deletion of GMO foods from their listings.
At present, major Canadian retailers are refusing to accept products labelled "GMO Free" because of uncertainties as to the legal validity of such claims.
The Canadian position represents a more cautious approach, suggesting that labelling may cause more confusion, if not handled appropriately.
The Federal Canadian Biotechnology Advisory Committee has recently recommended a series of regulations relating to GM Food, including Draft Recommendation 4:
"CBAC recommends that the federal government put in place mechanism to help Canadians make informed choices about the foods they consume……The government should also ensure the development of an approach to labelling foods regarding genetic modifications that, combined with the information service, is effective in helping Canadians make informed food choices2."
One of the major challenges facing all Canadian producers is the ever-increasing environmental regulations and guidelines.
The Choosing our Future discussion paper distributed by the Minister of Agriculture identifies Environmental Stewardship as a key policy issue. It is claimed that B.C. is a leader in North America in establishing environmental standards to protect air, soil, water, fish and wildlife. The concern expressed by some in the industry is that this high level of regulation is having a negative impact on the agri-food industry’s competitiveness.
Key environmental issues raised in the consultation process are:
Species at Risk
In February, 2001, the Federal Minister of the Environment re-tabled a new Species at Risk Act, designed to protect selected wildlife species. Responsibility for its implementation would rest with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans for aquatic species and the Ministry of the Environment for all other species and overall administration of the Act. While there is acknowledgement that the implementation of the Act would impact landowners and land users, Ministries of Agriculture are not specifically named as participating in its administration.
Naturally, farmers (as well as other resource industries) will be most affected by the new Act, which does provide for some compensation. Details of the compensation proposals are being debated at the present time, but can be expected to producers.
At the same time, some BC producers, including the BC Milk Producers and others are expressing concern at the cost of meeting environmental regulations and are requesting that taxpayers share in these costs. They reason that the environmental standards are set by society and that society should therefore share in the costs of meeting them. The BC Agriculture Council, in its submission to the Select Standing Committee, proposed an incentive based program for environmental stewardship through a program of tax credits and partnership with the various agencies involved.
Another area of concern is that environmental regulations may be set by different levels of government, with conflicting goals and priorities, with the result that farmers may be "caught in the middle", with an ever increasing range of limitations on their activities3. Environmental regulations may be set by federal, provincial, regional and municipal governments.
Within senior levels of government, producers may have to deal with various ministries - agriculture, environment and fisheries. It is pointed out that the Fish Protection Act does not encompass agricultural regulations, but producers have to comply with its requirements. There are various anecdotes of apparently high-handed and impractical determinations by DFO officials.
Producers rely on land clearing to develop additional production capacity. An important tool in land clearing has traditionally been the burning of waste wood and other vegetation. New regulations instituted by the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks (MOELP) appear to limit the potential to clear land using this method.
Of particular concern are tree stumps. While MELP proposes composting as an alternative to burning, they have not been able to confirm whether tree stumps are compostable, or, if so, how long the process would take.
The Union of BC Municipalities has attempted to have burning regulations revert to municipal jurisdiction, to provide more flexibility in the application of regulations to local conditions, but without success.
However, exemptions are permitted which might be examined in closer detail by producers wishing to clear land.
At the municipal level, there can also be burning restrictions, but these depend on Provincial regulation.
The development of the North Cowichan Strategic Agricultural Plan was guided by a Steering Committee consisting of the following individuals:
The Steering Committee worked with a consulting team of:
District of North Cowichan Population
1971 = 12,170
1981 = 18,210
1991 = 21,397
1996 = 25,305
1999 = 27,346
Urban Population (1996) = 12,612 (49.8%)
Rural Population (1996) = 12,693 (50.2%)
Agricultural and related labour force
District of North Cowichan Land Base
Total Area = 20,433 ha.
Land Area = 19,244 ha.
Water Area = 1,189 ha.
ALR area = 6,250 ha.
Area Farmed = 4,793 ha.
Cowichan Valley ALR Inclusions, Exclusions
ALR Area 1974 = 21,983.8 ha.
Inclusions (to 1999) = 260.0 ha.
Exclusions (to 1999) = 4,553.2 ha.
ALR Area 1999 = 17,601.2 ha.
District of North Cowichan Farms (1996)
Number of farms = 242
Average farm size = 19.8 ha.
Number under 4 ha = 81 (34%)
Area cropped, pasture = 2,457 ha.
Hay = 1,076 ha.
Tree fruits, berries, grapes = 156 ha.
Green House = 0.35 ha.
District of North Cowichan Livestock (1996)
Poultry = 123,879
Cattle and calves = 4,803
Pigs = 557
Sheep and Lambs = 949
Horses and Ponies = 228
Other = 162
District of North Cowichan Farm Capital, Income (1996)
Land and Buildings = $121,471,757
Machinery and Equipment = $10,497,508
Livestock and Poultry = $5,407,286
Gross Farm Receipts = $13,089,259
Operating Expenses = $12,121,985
District of North Cowichan Gross Farm Income (1996)
Less than $2,500 = 53 farms
$2,500 - $24,999 = 145
$25,000 - $99,999 = 16
$100,000 and over = 28
Issue:There are arable lands, within the District of North Cowichan, that are not in the Agricultural Land Reserve. Generally, these lands fall into two categories:
Most of these lands are dry sandy soils. The properties have been clear cut and recently reforested. There is very little organic matter in the soils but if there was forage grass established on these, organic matter would increase fairly quickly and the productivity would improve. One suggestion is to have a community pasture or use these areas for rangeland. Use cows to control the under story and continue to grow trees. The biggest problem with that use is probably going to be rustling. Nevertheless, it would be a good mixed use of the land. There is an example in Sayward of a working community pasture. There are probably some good agro-forestry or botanical forest product potential here as well. The major limitation is that forest companies are generally not experienced or interested for micro management of their lands for uses other that forestry.
1) Regarding the sloped lands:
There is no doubt that there are arable and potentially productive lands outside of the ALR in the North Cowichan District. However, it would be difficult to recommend a "blanket" land use recommendation for the following reasons:
There is obviously some potential for productive agricultural use of these non-ALR lands. The vineyard that is currently being developed is an excellent example. If it is properly done (as this one appears to be), use of these lands can generate economic activity and agricultural products with minimal impact. The vineyard can take advantage of the favourable climate provided by the south slope and should be able to easily develop water storage and gravity irrigation systems that make the vineyard efficient and profitable with a multi million dollar view to match – a win-win development.
There is a generally downward trend in the number of applications per year, the maximum being in 1974 with 14 applications. It will be noted that in 4 years in the 1990’s no applications at all were received. In total the period 1990 to 1999 saw 22 (16.6%) applications compared to 57 (43%) in the period 1980 to 1989 and 80 (60%) in the first 10 years.
There is a generally downward trend in the amount of land applied for exclusion, especially after 1985. In the 1990’s the total extant of land excluded from the reserve was approx. 40 ha (2.2%) compared with 1560 in the period 1980 to 1989 (89.6%) and 140 (8%) in the period 1974 to 1979. The bulk of the land excluded, amounting to 1031 ha (59%), and all of the land included were the result of a fine tuning review undertaken by the Commission in 1985. The review identified three principal situations. The first was prime land that was considered to be too developed, in the main with residences, the largest block being located in the Herd Road area. The second type was the forested land with secondary soils generally located in the more peripheral locations. The third category comprised the forested lands in prime soils, which were included into the reserve. An earlier block exclusion application from the District in 1974 resulted in the exclusion of 66 ha of land primarily reflecting existing industrial uses on secondary soils.
It will be noted that a relatively small amount of land was excluded in terms of ELUC decisions, amounting to 37 ha or 2% of the total. This comprised 4 rural residential properties all with prime or prime dominant soils located in the Somenos-Quamichan Lakes area.