The next round of meetings for the agricultural plan being developed by the Regional District of East Kootenay will take place on Tuesday, April 16th from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Lions Hall in Invermere. The regional district, along with a steering committee comprised of local producers, is developing a strategic agricultural plan with the goal of supporting and promoting a viable, sustainable and diversified agricultural industry throughout the Columbia Valley.
The first step in the process was an extensive land use inventory, which was carried out in summer 2011 by agrologist Dave Struthers with support from the Ministry of Agriculture, explained Karen MacLeod, the regional district’s co-ordinator for the agriculture plan. The inventory is now in its draft stage, which is allowing the process to continue, after an initial round of consultations that took place starting last year.
“We had a good mix of active producers and consumers at those meetings,” Ms. MacLeod said. “Having producers involved is really valuable because they can help with the flow of discussion and bring home some of the concepts to people; they have a lot of the background information, which is very helpful.”
Voices at the meetings included those of local producers, consumers and potential retailers. Eight key themes were identified in the first round of consultations: networking and support for producers; improving producer and consumer relationships; improving the economic viability of agricultural endeavours; marketing and branding to create a local and regional agri-food economy; the need to change or improve some government policies and regulations; increasing diversification and value-added agricultural products; farming demographics and succession; and land access, values and utilization.
Now the planners would like to meet with organizations that could help facilitate growth in the agricultural sector, like Wildsight or Groundswell, she added, but consumers and producers are strongly encouraged to come out as well. There are also surveys available for consumers, producers and retailer-suppliers at www.ekag.ca, and the deadline for filling them out has been extended.
The timeline for completion of the plan is December, and should result in a document that can help guide policy decisions and identify areas for investment at all levels of government with respect to strengthening the agricultural presence and participation throughout the valley.
“What we would like to have is a document that identifies short and long term action items that can be undertaken by the regional district or agricultural industry or community in order to achieve a stronger agricultural sector within the East Kootenays,” Ms. MacLeod said. “As part of that we want to have an implementation strategy that sets out roles and responsibilities, as well as budgetary items, and try to look at who may cover that and how that might move forward.”
One immediate change that could very well take place is the expansion of the current agricultural advisory committee, which currently only includes representatives from areas B and C in the regional district, she added.
“A recommendation might come out about how to restructure the committee in a way that might be more representative of agriculture in the region and may enable there to be an agricultural voice that considers agricultural applications or applications that might impact agriculture throughout the region,” she said.
“When the board is considering future applications, whether they be rezoning or land applications, agricultural producers would have a voice on that. That wouldn’t involve a large amount of funding; it would simply be a change in policy for the board,” Ms. MacLeod added.
For more information on the agricultural plan or the upcoming meeting go to www.ekag.ca. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Friday, April 12th.
On-line and printable versions of a survey created by the agricultural plan steering committee can also be found on the website.
There are three surveys representing various stakeholders in valley agriculture: one for consumers, another for producers, and one for retailers. Results of the surveys continue to factor into the draft version of the agricultural plan.