50 Years of the Provincial Agricultural Land Commission
On April 18, 2023 — 50 years ago today, the Legislative Assembly of BC gave royal assent to the Land Commission Act, the first of its kind in Canada, that ushered in a program to preserve the Province’s limited but valuable farmland resource.
British Columbia has the second largest land area among Canadian provinces. But unlike other provinces, three-quarters of BC’s land base is located above a thousand metres in elevation. BC’s mountain/valley physiography has resulted in a scarcity of agricultural land (<5% of the province’s total land base) that continue to be, under tremendous settlement pressure for irreversible conversion to urban, industrial, residential, recreation, and supporting infrastructure uses.
This intensive and unrelenting pressure for development and conversion of agricultural land was the driving force behind the creation of the Provincial Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) in 1973. There is no question that without the ALR the majority of farmland in BC would have already been converted to other land uses.
The establishment of a provincial zone that protects land for farming was a bold and fundamental change in thinking, that placed greater value on the preservation of agricultural land for the betterment of society as a whole instead of individual market driven factors, has resulted in an agricultural resource industry that supports billions in revenue every year.
The ALR covers about 4,612,526 hectares (or 4.9%) of the 94,646,000 hectare BC land base. Not all of the ALR is available for agriculture as the boundaries include things like water bodies and infrastructure.
To learn more about the program and our history we encourage you to take some time to read more…
The Land Commission and It’s Significance to BC Agriculture, Bill Lane 1973
“In considering the agricultural reserve as a land-use management tool, it should be remembered that local jurisdictions are sometimes hesitant to take sufficiently imaginative steps when in the short run these may prove unpopular with some people. It is easier for local government to do the right thing when it has been requested to do so by the province.”
The BC Land Commission Act – A Review, David Baxter, 1974
“Urban growth in a region expands the demand for agricultural products, thereby, raising the gross returns to farmers. It also creates numerous problems, which increase the cost and difficulty of farming, often more than will be offset by the increased revenue. Some of the problems may be inherent in the incompatibility between agricultural production and urban settlement: most are, however, the result of the lack of foresight and planning.”
Ill Fares the Land, Mary Rawson 1976
“The dangers posed by urban encroachment then is not fully described by recounting the number of acres and the class of land directly removed by the new uses. The fabric of the farming community itself may have been critically weakened before the ‘acreage lost’ statistics reveal it.”
Farmland Preservation – A Personal Reflection, Jim Plotnikoff 1993, PIBC News Agricultural Land Commission 1993
“It is no longer credible to regard our foodlands as a form of quick-fix urban land bank. This attitude must be replaced with an understanding that the urbanization of the ALR is not inevitable and that the preservation of our agricultural resource is a necessary context within which the planning for urban growth must be undertaken. As our population grows, so will the importance of maintaining our food producing lands.”
Stakes in the Ground, Moyra Quayle 1998
“Without the courage to hold firm, with stakes in the ground, there will be no incentive to better manage our land base in the face of competing uses. We must halt the slow but steady erosion of our agriculture and food resources, and support our varied agricultural industries. As a forward thinking society, we must dig in, take responsibility, and make sure that future generations have a vibrant agricultural land base.”
BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve – It’s Historical Roots, G. Gary Runka 2006
“The mandate was not to balance competing land uses, not to negotiate conditions under which one might use farmland for other purposes, but to protect farmland and to preserve the option to use that land for food production.”
“In other words, the establishment of the ALR was intended to be a permanent shift away from the view that ‘farmland is urban land in waiting’ and towards the view that ‘farmland is food production land for present and future generations’.”
A Work in Progress – The British Columbia Farmland Preservation Program, Barry Smith 2012
“A key litmus test of the program will be how successful the Commission is at ending the perception that it’s role is one of a rationing board, slowly but surely meting out the provinces farmland base to alternative uses. Successfully instilling a land management ethic that recognizes farmland preservation as a social value and the ALR as a treasured and permanent part of the landscape will take the constant and active support of successive provincial governments. It will also take growth management policies at the local level that are founded on the point of view that the best and highest use of agricultural land is agriculture – now and in the future.”
News and Media
Minister’s Statement on Anniversary of the Agricultural Land Reserve
BC’s ALR: Every Community’s Best Friend
Protecting Farmland and Strengthening Food Security: The Story of BC’s Agricultural Land Reserve
In Our View: ALR Marks 50 Years
B.C. Cabinet Takes Pressure Off Local Councils When it Comes to Develop
Archival Resources Document History of Agricultural Land Reserve
Fifty Years Later, B.C.’s Farms and Cities Reap the Benefits From a Scheme to Spare Land From Development
The Agriculture Land Reserve and Social Contract