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Tour aims to understand issues, challenges facing farms
Agriculture Minister Ben Stewart has expressed concern about the indiscriminate dumping of fill material on farmland, and acknowledged that while he is not prepared to interfere in the Mufford railway overpass decision he strongly supports the need to preserve farmland.
Stewart spoke to The Times on Monday morning on a break from his tour of agricultural operations in the Lower Mainland. On his tour, he spoke with greenhouse operators and dairy producers, and met with ministry staff in Abbotsford.
He addressed the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce Tuesday night at the Coast Hotel and Convention Centre.
The purpose of his tour, he said, was to better understand agricultural issues, discover what the challenges are and define the opportunities to expand agricultural opportunities.
Stewart was named agriculture minister in October.
Stewart said that he is concerned about the improper use of farmland for the dumping of material. Advised of a Glen Valley situation in which a landowner has proposed bringing in hundreds of truckloads of fill, theoretically to improve the land, the minister said that municipal bylaws and the Agricultural Land Commission controls are in place to monitor this type of situation.
“I am looking at it,” he said, adding that hauling fill onto farmland is not an issue many areas face.
The road network for the proposed Mufford overpass passes through prime historic agricultural land in Milner. Control of the project, which the Agricultural Land Commission rejected late last year, has been assumed by the Ministry of Transportation which is “considering some options,” Stewart said.
He said that he does not know what those are, and while he will not interfere with the decision he acknowledged the need to preserve farmland.
“The ALC has to make sure that agricultural land is preserved for future generations,” he said.
Stewart said that he believes the average person does not understand Langley’s abundance of farmland.
The minister commented on farm assessments, and a review that will examined how assessments can be strengthened so that farm classification, and the benefits that go with it, is not abused.
This abuse includes homeowners who receive benefits of farm taxation status without making sincere efforts to produce.
For example, he said, some farm holdings of 10, 15 or 20 acres may not be actively farmed, but the owners are still enjoying preferential tax benefits.
Some recommendations of the 2009 review have been implemented, and others are still being worked on, Stewart said.