What is Agricultural Land
Agriculture can be defined as the systematic and controlled use of living organisms and the environment to improve the human condition. 'Agricultural land' is the land base upon which agriculture is practiced. Typically occurring on farms, agricultural activities are undertaken upon agricultural land to produce agricultural products. Although agricultural land is primarily required for the production of food for human and animal consumption, agricultural activities also include the growing of plants for fibre and fuels (including wood), and for other organically derived products (pharmaceuticals, etc).
Physical, chemical and biological inputs are essential to agricultural systems, and are ultimately supplied by the soil, moisture, the sun (in the forms of light and heat energy), plants, animals and biological agents. In productive agricultural systems these inputs are necessarily controlled, to the extent possible, through appropriate agricultural practices. The more capably the land base provides and sustains these inputs, the more capable and productive the land is as agricultural land.
Not all agricultural land is capable or suitable for producing all agricultural products, regardless of the level of management applied. The main limiting factors in British Columbia are climate and topography. Climate determines the heat energy and moisture inputs required for agricultural production. Topographic limitations mostly restrict the ability to use cultivation equipment. Soils with all their variability are also a key limiting factor. Depending upon their properties and characteristics they may be appropriate for sustaining the production of certain agricultural products, but not others.
In BC agricultural capability ratings and limitations are assessed through a classification system known as the "Land Capability Classification for Agriculture in British Columbia"1. The classification system describes seven land capability classes for agriculture (Classes 1 to 7). Class 1 land has minimal limitations when associated with the most amenable climates in the Province. In Class 2 to Class 5 lands the limitations increase. Class 6 lands have limitations that preclude arable agricultural activities yet are capable of sustaining native and/or perennial uncultivated agriculture. Class 7 lands have limitations that precludes all arable and natural grazing agricultural systems, regardless of the climate. Increasingly, new innovations in drainage and irrigation, tillage, nutrient replenishment (whether organic or inorganic), pest management, as well as closed environmental systems, allow for agricultural production on agricultural land once deemed too limited or unsuited for producing specific products. The recognition of 'arable' agricultural activities is also significant in that Class 6 and 7 lands may still be agriculturally productive, where topography and climate allows, and where the agricultural activities are dedicated to closed environmental systems (i.e. greenhouses). See Agriculture Capability for further information on the Classification System.
Whether or not a given parcel of land is put into agricultural production may have little to do with agricultural capability or suitability of the land base.
External factors such as business costs associated with implementing and sustaining a given agricultural system, the closeness of the farm to transportation links, as well as the vagaries of the marketplace to which one sells and earns a profit also influence agricultural production. In general, however, good agricultural land facilitates the management activities for a wider range of products, while poorer agricultural land does not.
Where can I get a copy of an agriculture capability map?
1 Reference: Kenk, E. and I. Cotic. April, 1983. Land Capability Classification for Agriculture in British Columbia. MOE Manual 1.
Surveys and Resource Mapping Branch, Ministry of Envirnoment and Soils Branch, Ministry of Agriculture and Food. Kelowna, B.C. 68 pp. ISSN 0821-0640