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The British Columbia tree fruit industry reacted favorably to the Canadian province’s recently unveiled agriculture plan, which focuses on promoting B.C. food products, reducing climate change impacts, and reconnecting British Columbians with locally grown food.

"Agriculture is everyone’s business, and we need to ensure that the people who produce our food have access to the tools, people, and technology they need to remain competitive," said Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell while announcing the B.C. Agriculture Plan: Growing a Healthy Future for B.C. Families in February.

The plan has five key themes that form the foundation for 23 strategies and 68 action items.

Producing local food in a changing world – Promoting B.C. agriculture and food products to support B.C. producers in supplying fresh, healthy food directly to consumers, and developing a food-miles program to ­create public awareness of the distance food products have been transported, and the effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

Meeting environmental and climate challenges – Shifting farm practices to turn agricultural residues like plant material, and animal and organic waste, into renewable energy, and investing in environmental farm planning, to encourage producers to adopt more environmentally friendly ways of handling their livestock, fertilizer, farm buildings,­­­ and engine emissions.

Building innovative and profitable family farm businesses – Supporting the agriculture industry in addressing British Columbia’s farm labor shortage, and supporting agriculture’s diverse sectors in developing sector-specific strategic plans to work towards sustained profitability.

Building First Nations agriculture capacity – Establishing a program to certify First Nations food products prior to the 2010 Olympics, and delivering a "local foods for healthy eating" program for First Nations, who are aboriginal Canadians.

Bridging the urban/agriculture divide – Increasing funding for agriculture-in-the-classroom programs to reconnect children with the source of their food, and reviewing zoning bylaws and farm-use bylaws to ensure the regulatory structure supports the sustainable growth of farming in British Columbia.

The ministry announced that to implement the plan it intends to reallocate approximately $5.6 million a year for three years from existing funding. Funding will support the development of a promotional campaign to brand B.C. food and agri-food products, increase the support (extension services) provided to farmers across the province, and support delivery of 4-H programs to youth, and agriculture-in-the-classroom programs.

"To support the government’s objectives in reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food purchases, the province will seek the necessary authority to fund the development of a $3-million ‘food miles’ program," the ministry stated in a news release.

Good plan

Joe Sardinha, president of the B.C. Fruit Grower’s Association, was encouraged that the government initiated the plan.

"By and large, I think it’s a very good plan, but we’ll see if there is adequate funding," he commented. "The new branding program is something we’ve looked forward to. I’m not so sure how the food miles program will play out, whether the packers will be stamping their boxes, so we’ll wait and see on that one.

"This is the first time in many years that a political party has come out with an agricultural policy, and that’s a good thing," he said. "In terms of funding that came out, it didn’t increase substantially, and that’s a little disappointing."

The B.C. Agriculture Plan Committee began its public consultation process in June 2006. The committee heard from a wide range of stakeholders throughout the province on their concerns and ideas about the future of agriculture and the food-supply system.

Val Roddick, parliamentary secretary for agriculture planning, led the committee through consultation with farmers, producers, scientists, conservationists, health professionals, officials, and the general public.

"B.C.’s agriculture producers are passionate about ensuring the industry remains sustainable and competitive for many years to come," said Roddick. "We need to reestablish the essential link between agriculture and society as a whole for the millions of people in B.C. who consume food every day but don’t understand the importance of local food production."

"The plan…will serve as a roadmap for cross-industry collaboration between the government and our council," said Dick Klein Geltink, chair of the B.C. Agriculture Council.