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Province revises ALR regulations to make room for vertical farming

Minister of Agriculture: Agri-tech innovations may help solve ‘food security and food economy puzzle’
A photo showing the vertical farming concept. (Funky Banana Farm photo)

Vertical farming allows Eco Dairy’s 2,000 square-foot building in Abbotsford to grow feed equivalent to 10 acres of agricultural land, according to Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun.

He used the company as an example for why regulatory changes were coming to the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) during a provincial press conference on Feb. 19.

“We’ve been excited about this for quite some time,” Braun said. “Changes to the ALR regulation brings much-needed certainty and predictability for organizations to invest in and grow agri-tech in our community.”

Vertical farming – where crops are grown in stacked layers to maximize space, reduce energy costs and emissions – is one form of agri-tech the province has planned for ALR zoned properties as part of their StrongerBC Economic Plan.

Not only could this increase productivity of smaller fallow lands, it could help B.C. become a “global player” in the agri-tech marketplace, according to a provincial press release.

Local governments and the province have already heard from companies interested in investing following this regulatory change, said Ravi Kahlon, Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation.

“We’re going to see some investments in British Columbia, and that’ll be positive for communities, but it’ll also be positive for our food security going forward,” Kahlon said.

Agri-tech operations are more sustainable, and use fewer resources through innovative technologies like robotic harvesting and controlled indoor growing systems, the provincial press release said, noting there are already 150 agritech companies operating in B.C.

The change is meant to help solve the “overall food security and food economy puzzle,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries. She said the pandemic and recent devastating November floods in Abbotsford showed the vulnerability of food supply chains.

Braun said that Abbotsford has struggled to attract agri-tech companies because of uncertainty surrounding ALR regulations; Popham said the changes will add clarity for potential investors.

The province has an agri-tech land strategy based on the recommendations of a 2019 by the Food Security Task Force regarding land-use planning policies. Approximately $7.5 million was invested in grants for agri-tech companies in 2021.

B.C.’s government will also be launching a Regenerative Agriculture and Agritech Network to help farmers use the latest technology to increase production, sustainability and profitability.

RELATED: $228M fund coming for B.C. farmers, ranchers impacted by November floods


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