Trying to understand province’s farm policy no easy task

The Review has been receiving feedback from my column in the December 23, 2010 edition entitled “Are Farm Assessment rules helping or hindering farmers?”

The Review has been receiving feedback from my column in the December 23, 2010 edition entitled “Are Farm Assessment rules helping or hindering farmers?”

Several small acreage operations have contacted us, but no one faster than BC Assessment themselves, who responded almost immediately to inform me that I had made a “significant error” regarding the introduction of the Farm Assessment Review’s recommendations into law. Apparently this hasn’t happened yet – my apologies for the mistake – but under the circumstances, it might not be difficult to understand why I made it.

BC Assessment’s harassment of small acreage farms appears to have coincided with two circumstances – the completion of the Farm Review recommendations, and the closure of the BC Assessment’s Penticton office, both of which took place last year.

Whether these two happenings have anything to do with the sudden crackdown on small farms is something only BC Assessment can answer. What matters most here is the damage that is being done to these operators – from an economic and spiritual point of view, in terms of morale.

One is left to wonder if perhaps the closure of the Penticton offices brought with it a change in personnel to the review process. What are the qualifications of the appraisers? Do any of them come from agricultural backgrounds? Do any of them understand that the same crop that was worth $4,000 in one year could end up being worth only $700 in another?

I suspect not. It would appear to me that their background is in real estate – which, let’s face it, would be akin to letting the fox guard the chicken house when it comes to protecting scenic valley acreage from development.

In my case, the assessor told me that not enough farming activity existed for my farm classification to continue.

Oddly enough, from the last growing season to this one, nothing has changed, agriculturally on my land from then to now. The same amount of activity continued in 2010 – I just received substantially less income from it than in previous years.

The only changes I am aware of having occurred took place at BC Assessment.

Facts are, B.C. has less than five per cent of its land mass that is arable. The Agricultural Land Reserve was created in the 1970’s in response to rapid encroachment of farmland to development, pressures that then, as now, are particularly severe in the Lower Mainland, the Okanagan, and increasingly, the Similkameen. The ALR has since put a stranglehold on all small acreages within its reserves, limiting development. The only economic use these acreages have to their owners is through agricultural endeavours.

So, what is BC Assessment and the province trying to achieve through this crackdown? We have all heard the province’s rhetoric, touting the importance of farming, but at the same time it has been gutting the agriculture budget.

They cut it by 25 per cent in 2009, and a further four per cent in 2010 and 2011, to the point where B.C. now spends less on agriculture than any province in Canada.

That doesn’t sound much like support.

With this evidence at hand, and the recent actions of BC Assessment leading to the conjecture above, I can only conclude that the province is trying to score new revenue sources. Assessment values locally are largely flat this year in our region. Pulling farm status classification will bump up those properties’ assessments substantially.

At the same time, small landowners are discouraged from doing anything productive, so they let the properties become windblown eyesores, and in ten or fifteen years, the general public will be clamouring for someone to do something with that land.

I can almost hear the sound of bulldozers now.

If you’ve been affected by BC Assessment’s assault on small acreage farms, we would like to hear from you.