A crew of blueberry pickers run a machine to pick the berries of the bushes at MacDonald Farm in Langley

Township sees bright future for farming

Municipality considers 20-year plan to encourage agriculture

Farming is a big part of the Township of Langley’s economy and it could become even bigger if council adopts a plan that would encourage more local processing of produce, council was told on March 11.

The 10-member Agricultural Viability Strategy Task Force was presenting its 101-page draft plan, which proposes spending $2.7 million over the next 20 years on programs to boost agricultural activity and reduce conflict between urban neighbourhoods and nearby farms.

A staff report to council calls the sum a “relatively small investment for an industry that currently produces more than $277 million annually [in Langley].”

Farming occupies more than three-quarters of the Township’s 316 square kilometres and Langley has one-half of all the farms operating in Metro Vancouver, the strategy document observed.

“Agriculture is big in Langley,” said Dave Melnychuk, the chair of the task force.

And it could become even more significant, said lead consultant Don Cameron of Don Cameron Associates.

“It’s not going to happen instantly, but we believe over a period of time, the agriculture industry will be further developed

[in Langley],” Cameron told council.

The proposed strategy would speed things up by adopting a four-part plan to provide a “welcoming business environment for farming,” services to encourage “agri-industrial hubs” that would process locally grown food within Langley, a secure agricultural land base, and rules to ensure “best farm management practices” are used by local farmers.

The last part would involve a “good neighbour policy” that requires farmers to operate “in a manner that is sensitive to the needs of other citizens.”

It’s as close as the strategy document comes to discussing the controversial propane cannons used to scare birds off berry crops and the political battle that has pitted blueberry farmers against horse farms and residential neighbourhoods.

It makes no direct reference to the cannon controversy, but does talk about farmers reducing “dust, noise and odour where reasonable.”

In return, non-farm residents would be “encouraged to … support farmers’ need to operate their farms in an economically sustainable manner,” the strategy suggests.

The 34 initiatives, 86 policies and 85 actions in the document also include possible creation of a farmers’ institute to represent agricultural interests modelled on similar groups in Delta and Richmond, regulations that would require notifying home buyers when “the use of their properties may be impacted by normal farm practices” and offering incentives to encourage food processors to build plants in Langley to process locally grown food.

The strategy also flags water conservation as an issue, noting that 80 per cent of the Township water supply comes from wells, and tests show groundwater levels are dropping.

Some fish-bearing streams have lost as much as 30 per cent of their “base flows” the document notes.

It calls for water conservation programs over the short term and looking for “other appropriate water sources” over the long term.

Council reaction to the proposed strategy was uniformly positive, though Councillor Kim Richter expressed some concern that the “good neighbour policy” doesn’t specifically address the question of blueberry cannons.

Councillor David Davis, a fourth-generation Langley dairy farmer, gave the strategy an enthusiastic endorsement, saying he “strongly” supports it.

Mayor Jack Froese, who owns and operates a turkey farm and turkey wholesale business, liked the notion of locating food processing facilities where local farms are growing.

“Agriculture is more than primary production,” Froese said.

Council voted unanimously to order a public open house on the strategy at a yet-to-be-determined date.

Following that, the proposed strategy would come back to council for a vote on approval and implementation.

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