Precious farmland needs protection, says Big Lakes council

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Big Lakes County council is standing firm on the ground that it wants to protect good farmland.
And it wants a policy to protect agricultural land across the province.
At its regular meeting Sept. 14, council approved the Protecting Good Agricultural Land from Renewable Energy Farms briefing document.
“The provincial government wants to expand renewable energy, but not on Crown land, High Prairie East – Banana Belt Councillor Tyler Airth said.
“That’s why they have pushed it on private land.
“This doesn’t have to be on agricultural land.”
South Sunset House – Gilwood Councillor Ann Stewart agrees.
“You need to preserve good farmland. We need farmland, we need food.”
CAO Jordan Panasiuk says it is a land-use issue taken out of the hands of municipalities.
At its meeting June 22, council added the issue to its list of issues and priorities to lobby the provincial government, Brett Hawken, director of community and protective services, reminded council.
Big Lakes recommends the government create legislation that protects good agricultural land from renewable energy farms.
“With current government incentives and grants to increase renewable energy farms throughout the province, council is concerned that current producers are going to start converting good farmland to renewable energy farms to make more money due to the government incentives and grants,” the document states.
“This will lead to less crop production and possible food supply shortages for the province, which has the possibility to lead to other problems in the future.”
Council wants it to be an issue that is taken out of the hands of municipalities.
“Rather than an individual municipal approach, Big Lakes County council is looking for a province-wide solution to prevent losing more ‘good agricultural land’ to renewable energy farm,” the document states.
Big Lakes currently defines “good agricultural land” as stated in its municipal development plan.
Agricultural land of higher quality, based on the Rural Farmland Assessment (RFA) data, lands with an RFA rating of 45 per cent or greater for 50 per cent or more of the land area area considered good agricultural farmland for the purposes on the plan.
The briefing states that the Municipal Government Act is the only current provincial legislation for Big Lakes to use to protect good farmland.
Big Lakes suggests the legislation be a stand-alone regulation that is utilized in British Columbia, Quebec and parts of Ontario to designate and protect prime farmlands.
Council further suggests government use existing legislation like the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA).
ALSA enables communities to create a regional play that can have distinct regional priorities.
Big Lakes suggests another option.
“Utilizing existing legislation, like ALSA, could be encouraged with pressure exerted for the province to finally undertake regional land plans under the Land-Use Framework that, at least for the region Big Lakes is located in, have enhanced protections for good agricultural lands,” the document says.

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