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Agriculture & Food Systems

Policy Area 2: Agriculture and Food Systems

Agriculture is an important component of the North Okanagan economy and one of the defining characteristics of our region. North Okanagan farms provide economic benefits, jobs, and multiple opportunities for access to locally grown foods and other agricultural products. From poultry production to tree fruits, cattle ranches to pumpkin patches, North Okanagan farmers raise a wide variety of crops and animals. Many farmers also develop and market value-added products such as wine, baked goods, preserves, honey, cheese, meats, wool, botanical soaps and other personal care products.

How Are We Doing?

The 2013 Quality of Life survey indicated that, on average, respondents considered their access to local food to be just above ‘good’. Survey respondents rated local and regional efforts to protect agricultural land from development as less than ‘good’ but better than ‘fair’.

The North Okanagan is doing fairly well in facilitating access to locally produced foods.  Farmers markets are thriving and in some cases have grown in recent years. For example, over the winter months of 2013 the Vernon Farmers Market held its first indoor market at the Schubert Centre and since 2015 has offered an indoor market at Kal Tire Place.  Farmers markets also take place in other North Okanagan communities including Enderby, Kingfisher, Armstrong, Coldstream, Lumby, and Cherryville.

A Regional Agricultural Plan (RAP) was completed in 2015 as a priority Regional Growth Strategy implementation project. The RAP provides an overview of the current regional food system, identifies market opportunities, and recommends actions that would help support a healthy, resilient and sustainable agricultural sector. With support from the Investment Agriculture Foundation, the planning process was led by the Regional District and a committee comprised of elected officials and members of the farming community. Throughout the RAP consultation process, feedback from farmers indicated that access to irrigation water and seasonal water scarcity were among the top challenges to agricultural production in the North Okanagan.

Upholding the goals of the RGS, the Official Community Plans for North Okanagan communities and Electoral Areas discourage removal of productive land from the ALR and include policies which are supportive of local food production. Province-wide, the amount of land within the ALR declined by about 3% or 138,074 hectares, between 2011 and 2016. Locally, during the same time period, this reduction was countered with the addition of approximately 26 ha of land to the ALR in the North Okanagan (an increase of approximately 0.04%). Interestingly, while the number of farms has gone down, the average farm size increased by about 10 ha between 2006 and 2011. While most North Okanagan farms are less than 69 ha, the Coldstream Ranch, with over 3200 ha of deeded land contributes1 to the relatively large average farm size.

The Regional Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) has identified priority actions for 2017 including:

  • exploring the potential to use the 2014 Agricultural Land Use Inventory to create a database of ALR properties that are either vacant or underutilized in terms of food production;
  • supporting a pilot project to establish a North Okanagan Farmers Institute that is inclusive of a diversity of producer types, sizes, and scales;
  • AAC networking opportunities, including but not limited to:
    • lobbying BC Assessment Authority to include value-added farm products within scope
    • of farm income for farm status purposes;
    • developing a relationship with the BC Real Estate Association regarding an appreciation of the socio-cultural aspects of farming;
    • collectively addressing Regional Climate Change strategies, implementation, and cooperation;
    • addressing regional Crown Land use issues (with reference to the Okanagan-Shuswap Land and Resource Management Plan);
    • linking with Fraser Basin Council on broad watershed concerns;
    • collaborating on Agricultural Land Commission Act direction; and
    • working with First Nations in the sub-region on common concerns.
  • Continuing to support reduction of invasive species and noxious weeds through bylaw enforcement and collaborating with the agricultural community to identify high-priority areas.

1 The Western Producer, “Collaboration Helps Preserve Ecosystem”, www.producer.com, posted June 14, 2013