MLA’s Report: Letnick defends agriculture spending

The B.C. budget builds on the agrifoods strategy, which is set to expand agrifoods to a $14 billion-a-year industry by 2017.

British Columbia is home to more than just spectacular scenery. From blueberry fields in the Fraser Valley, to grain in the Peace region, and beef in the Cariboo, we produce world-class agricultural products. And don’t forget the award-winning wine and tree fruit from here in the Okanagan.

Food production and processing in B.C. amounts to more than $10.9 billion in revenue each year and employs 61,000 British Columbians.

As Agriculture Minister and a representative for the Central Okanagan, I know firsthand the importance of this industry.

Not only is it an important part of the economy, but having nutritious, fresh food available for British Columbians is key to a healthy family.

Budget 2013 reflects how important agriculture is to our province. While maintaining a balanced budget, we’ve been able to increase spending on agriculture by 20 per cent, which will climb to $79.3 million in 2013/14. These funds will support the industry, helping it remain competitive..

I believe the budget does an excellent job of capitalizing on our competitive advantages, while helping mitigate some of the challenges that, together with our partners in industry, we have identified.

B.C. has excellent agricultural producers, including tree fruit and greenhouse growers.

We’ve already established programs to help these important industries.

For instance, the Buy Local program will help the industry promote its products by helping them expand their marketing campaigns, while the replant program will help tree fruit growers switch to higher-value fruits.

Budget 2013 provides relief to help offset carbon tax costs, including a carbon tax exemption for coloured gas and diesel used by farmers in on-farm equipment and eligible farm vehicles.

Agricultural land is vital to our province – environmentally, socially, and economically, so it’s important that we protect it.

A major facet of the agrifoods strategy is maintaining a sustainable land base for continued food production. The budget provides an additional $4 million over three years to support the Agricultural Land Commission, which will ensure they have the tools necessary to effectively administer and preserve the Agricultural Land Reserve.

It is important to note there are many other elements of our provincial budget that will benefit the agriculture sector.

For instance, changes to the Property Transfer Tax Act will support family farm succession.

This will provide a tax exemption for farms being transferred through generations of British Columbians.

Dairy producers will also benefit from the $1 million for the School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, which will be used to provide local milk to students at no cost to them or their families.

As agriculture minister, I am proud of the strong, collaborative relationship our government has maintained with our partners in Ottawa, industry, and local governments across the province.

It allows us to identify the best way to move forward and meet the needs of our constituents.

This relationship allows us to achieve results, such as the Growing Forward agreement, which will help the industry implement business development and risk management programs.

The budget builds on the agrifoods strategy, which is set to expand agrifoods to a $14 billion-a-year industry by 2017. The investment in agriculture reinforces an important theme in the strategy– competitiveness.

It’s all part of developing a fertile environment for B.C. agriculture to thrive.