BC Government Ministry of Agriculture.
Dr. Gerry Neilsen and Minister Pimm
Dr. Gerry Neilsen shows Minister Pimm some test apple plots at the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre in Summerland.
Orchard & Vine Interview with BC Agricultural Minister, Pat Pimm
Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm was re-elected in 2013 and appointed Minister of Agriculture in June. Orchard & Vine caught up with him to ask questions posed by our readers. From liquor policies to labour plans, and the always contentious ALR, Pimm provided his thoughts on some of the issues facing B.C. agriculture.
O&V: Will there be money for a replant program for orchardist fruit growers in 2014?
Pimm: The replant program was supposed to be a three-year program, but was so successful we used the money in two years. Obviously, I don’t have exact timing (for a new program), but I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce it sometime in 2014. That’s a big focus that I have at this time.
O&V: The government recently announced another review of the ALR. What is the purpose of this review and what will it cover that wasn’t in the last review?
Pimm: When I became Agriculture Minister I had a mandate to look at the ALR to make sure it’s working for B.C. In the Lower Mainland, I don’t think the land has been preserved enough. We certainly protect it in rural areas, but it’s very important that we look after the most productive lands. I also think we need a plan to get our farming families back into the farming industry. I want to see 30-year-olds back on the farm, and 20-year-olds, not leaving for other opportunities.
O&V: There are concerns that the review will be used to make the withdrawal of ALR land much easier. Can you provide your thoughts?
Pimm: We only have 5% of land in B.C. that’s in the ALR, period. In the most productive areas of the province (Vancouver Island, Lower Mainland, Okanagan) there’s only about 12% of the 5%. I think that we need to make a real strong statement that those lands are going to stay in it so that we have strong farming production. In those areas we have the most pressure on land. We also have about 80 per cent of farm receipts in those areas. I have no intention of taking the most productive farmland out of the ALR. If anything we may have to tighten up further in those most productive areas.
O&V: Is the government looking to make substantive changes to how land is removed from the ALR or how the decision-making process occurs?
Pimm: I really can’t comment too far on that as the core review has just started. We’re going to be proposing some things, and certainly we want to get some facts on the table as to what’s happening. We have to look after farming for the future not only for ourselves, but our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. That being said, you can’t grow much on rocks and so we may see less protection on the rocks in the ALR. If there’s land that shouldn’t be in the ALR we should be talking about that.
O&V: Can you comment on changes to the ALR that allow more flexibility for value-added, agricultural taxation policy and other competitiveness issues?
Pimm: We need to do a little bit more value added, but we have to be very careful because we only have so much land and don’t want to replace it with value added. (It is an) interesting issue we are going to be talking about. I can’t deal with tax laws, the Finance Minister (deals with that), but to make agriculture more viable I think we do need more value-added opportunities.
O&V: What resources are being put forward for labour sources for seasonal farming operations and small lot farming?
Pimm: A lot of the agriculture industry has spoken to me to try to make certain that we keep our PNP (Provincial Nomination Program) and foreign worker programs viable. I’m certainly going to be pushing for that as I think they are something we need to grow the industry.
O&V: The environmental farm plan has been generally well received, but when some readers have applied, they have been told there is no money. What is your insight?
Pimm: The environmental farm program is something that we are going to be continuing. The program is beneficial to our farms long term, beneficial to farmers and to the farm community as a whole.
O&V: Has the government taken a stance on the labeling and allowance of growing GMO products?
Pimm: The federal government is responsible for GMO policy at this time and I don’t see that changing. I think they do a good job on the GMO file. It can take anywhere from five to 10 years to get a product approved with GMO. We need to have more education on GMO; that’s something I think is lacking. It’s not an issue that is so unanimously supported that it’s a natural. A lot of discussion that has to happen and a lot of information needs to be made available.
O&V: There are pressures to lower both domestic and import taxes on liquor within B.C. What do you see coming for liquor taxes and how do you think these changes will impact B.C.’s wine businesses?
Pimm: MLA John Yap is touring the province (getting) input into the liquor laws and liquor rules. I think that review is going to be very interesting when it all comes to light.
Taxation may come up in the discussion, but I don’t think this group (doing the review) is going to have the ability to change that.
O&V: What prompted this liquor review and what outcomes are you hoping for?
Pimm: The government is doing a general review of liquor policies. I have my own opinions, but I don’t want to prejudge, I want to hear what the public has to say. We will see what’s in the review and will have the chance to analyze it. I want to see our wine expand locally and even into the Asian markets. That’s certainly what we’re hoping for.
O&V: There are suggestions that the structure of BCVQA and BCWI currently favour larger producers leading to less participation by small wineries. Do you agree?
Pimm: BCWI was created in 1990 with the idea to create an internationally competitive wine industry. I think B.C. wine has done that. (BCWI) continues to support the growth of B.C. wine sales not only in B.C. but worldwide. They really are focusing on the industry overall and I don’t necessarily believe that’s leaving the little guys out of the picture.
We want to support everybody. We want to support the industry. We want to take our fantastic B.C. wines and distribute them locally and internationally. And just a following note: we’re working as diligently as we can to get other provinces to open their borders to B.C. wines just as we’ve opened our borders.
O&V: Can the government provide statistics on how many grapes or other fruit crops are needed in the next five to10 years?
Pimm: I think the (individual fruit grower) associations have done a pretty good job of providing the information to benefit their members. (Like the) tree fruit growers, they know which (type) of apples they’re looking for and they guide their members fairly well. ■