Agriculture Backgrounder

The Issue

The MPB epidemic is expected to impact the economies of the 12 communities, 2 Regional District and 18 First Nations communities in the OBAC region in a variety of ways due to the forest dependency of the local and regional economies. At least 50% of the region’s forests are pine and 37% of the jobs in the region depend directly on forestry. 80% of the mature pine is expected to be killed as a result of the epidemic and the ‘shelf life’ of these pine trees remains uncertain. Agriculture has good potential to contribute to diversifying and strengthening the region’s economy. The purpose of the OBAC Agriculture Strategy is to identify what actions need to be taken by the provincial and federal governments to support responsible and sustainable growth in the region’s Agriculture sector. The strategy also identifies what actions local governments, producers, and industry associations and others can take individually, collectively and in concert with senior governments to achieve this goal.

The Goal

To strengthen and diversify the agriculture sector in the region and to increase its contribution to the economy of the region.

The Background

The development of the Agriculture Strategy has been guided by input provided by a variety of people with community and sector expertise. Targeted interviews were conducted with specialists and a host of people attended three OBAC Agriculture Dialogue Sessions held in Smithers, Vanderhoof, and Prince George. Input was also provided through review of the strategy drafts. A consulting team led by Don Cameron and Associates carried out preliminary research, conducted the interviews and, facilitated the dialogue sessions and the development of the strategy. Additionally, a number of OBAC Directors and community leaders have contributed to the development of this strategy. The strategy presents a vision of how Agriculture Development in the region could look over the next ten years and beyond. The strategy also presents 4 objectives, 5 recommendations and 30 proposed actions all aimed at supporting the goal of responsible and sustainable growth in the region’s Agriculture sector.

The region has major agriculture assets which include its abundance of relatively low cost agriculture land, its capability for forage production and its long history of beef, poultry production. The sector, however, is particularly challenged at this time as a result of production costs and market conditions. There is recognition in the ranching and farming community that a new model is needed which will return the sector to profitability in the region.

There are significant opportunities to increase the contribution that agriculture makes to the economy. The region's potential in this sector can be realized through targeted efforts which include: the development of new products and markets; improved availability of education, training, and outreach, expanded and targeted research a strengthened agriculture community and expansion of the market for locally produced healthy foods. The communities of the region recognize the opportunities and are poised to do their part to help grow the sector.

The Vision

The communities of the region envision a future where an active, diversified and profitable agriculture sector is supported by regionally situated and responsive education and training opportunities and effective research programs. The sector places emphasis on food production which is done in a sustainable and responsible manner and on collaboration with health agencies, educational institutions, local governments, community groups and others in the development of measures which support the expansion and diversification of the industry. Using multiple approaches, the agriculture sector will be successful in local markets, be profitable with established products, develop new specialty and other products, and grow to serve broader provincial, national and international markets over time. In support of this Vision, the objectives proposed in this strategy are to:

Objective 1. Diversify and strengthen the agriculture sector.

Objective 2. Form stronger partnerships across the agriculture sector.

Objective 3. Increase the capacity to train and recruit the required work force.

Objective 4. Increase public support for the sector and interest in locally produced high quality food.

The Recommendations

The proposed strategy recommendations and corresponding actions together answer the question: “Who needs to do what, when and why” to achieve the proposed vision and objectives presented above. The actions that are proposed under each recommendation in the strategy will be the basis for action planning in the next step beyond the adoption of this strategy. The action plan will answer the question “how to do it and how much”. The five proposed Recommendations for this strategy are:

Recommendation 1:

Develop infrastructure which supports the agriculture sector and removes barriers to its further development and diversification.

Recommendation 2:

Attract new entrants to the industry and enable access to training and education for existing and new members of the sector.

Recommendation 3:

Strengthen the industry by increasing collaboration across the sector and by forging partnerships and communication links with First Nations, local communities, governments, heath and education agencies.

Recommendation 4:

Support value-added and specialized product development and the development of provincial, national and international markets for these products.

Recommendation 5:

Increase the demand for locally produced foods.

The Actions

Thirty (30) actions are proposed across these recommendations that can be implemented to build a supportive environment to diversify and create opportunities in the Agriculture sector. The detailed actions, rationales, and timelines are presented under each of these recommendations in Section 6 of the full strategy. The overall implementation of this strategy will require key and timely decisions by the Provincial and Federal Governments, local governments, producers, industry associations and others.

Selected porposed actions include:

  • Establish agriculture support officer positions that would support business planning and economic development support in the sector.
  • Examine the feasibility and interest in establishing a “beef cluster” in the region which would include beef production, processing, and shipping of finished products.
  • Establish new and expand existing training and education programs relevant to the region’s agricultural opportunities and potential.
  • Put in place measures designed to increase the production of and demand for local food.
  • Establish a regional agricultural advisory committee to engage with local education and research facilities.
  • Establish a regional agricultural resource centre in cooperation with the region’s post-secondary institutions.
  • Provide the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands with additional staffing to increase its level of direct farm outreach and related activity in the region.
  • Examine the business case for establishing a regional brand for marketing purposes.
  • Convene regional forums to review ways to partner on agriculture initiatives.
  • Provide funding to support existing and undertake new pilot projects, crop trials and other activities designed to increase the range of crops produced in the region for identified markets.
  • Undertake market research to identify the potential market for products that are or may be grown or processed in the region.
  • Assess the potential for expanding the greenhouse industry in the region.

The Next Steps

This strategy tells us the “what, who, when and why”, the next step is to determine “how to and how much” it will take to achieve the goal. The immediate next steps include:

  • Following release of the strategy planned for July 28th, bring together senior staff from relevant government agencies to work with OBAC to quickly develop an OBAC Regional Agriculture Strategy Action Plan that presents details on “how to and how much” for implementation.
  • Work with senior governments and other implementation allies to enable implementation of the OBAC Regional Agriculture Strategy Action Plan and integrate actions across strategies.