Boundary agriculture plan unveiled

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
December 3rd, 2010

Many of the people who attended the unveiling of the draft agricultural plan for the Boundary region were not convinced that the big picture direction provided by the author of the plan, James Calissi, is enough.   The regional agriculture plan was previewed last week as the consultant opened the draft up for feedback from the community at two meetings, one in Rock Creek and the second in Grand Forks. While the actual document was not available for comment, Calissi provided a presentation of some of the key issues and his vision for moving the industry forward.   Calissi’s major recommendation was to hire an agriculture development officer for the area who can then move forward many of the recommendations in his report and start to address issues facing the industry in the region.    “You could write volumes on different farming practices, but I don’t really think that is the intent of this report. It’s not so much to come up with specific cropping options but to lay ahead various programs that the region can take into consideration to move things ahead,” said Calissi. “An agriculture development officer, for example, can do a lot of work with individual producers that want to look at cropping options, bring information together, create a forum to exchange information, and so on. I think that’s more valuable.”   Many of the issues facing agriculture industry in the Boundary were touched on by Calissi in his presentation such as zoning and housing restrictions, economic viability of agriculture, the need for secondary processing facilities, challenges for livestock procession, marketing and distribution, and finding resources to support the industries needs. One key area that Calissi did not touch on much, but which producers identified as critical is labour and they felt he is not addressing the crisis.   “You pointed out that we should be encouraging young people to pursue a career in agriculture – get real,” said Bill Williams, owner of Mobetta Farms. “I don’t see that. Not with the imports, not with today’s pricing, it’s not there. So how about a plan?”   Other attendees wanted to see more emphasis on meat production challenges, climate change impacts, more focus on regional distribution of product as opposed to the suggestion from Calissi to focus on the United States markets, and a need for secondary processing facilities.   While the planning process was welcomed by the agriculture community, there were concerns over the next steps.   “Will it be the responsibility of the regional district to ensure that what comes out of this plan is in fact used in the future and it isn’t a dusty thing that it actually becomes a working tool,” asked Sheila Dobie of Spencer Hill Orchard, “and the regional district in fact ensures that it be a working document for either the agricultural advisory committee or some entity within the regional district that has some kind of authority to move this plan forward?”   The plan was started by the Boundary Economic Development Committee, but Mark Andison, director of planning for the RDKB, said the plan will need to go to the RDKB board and they will determine implementation.   “There are a lot of strategies here and, as has been raised, the key to those strategies is having an agriculture development officer,” commented Andison. “As I look at the strategies the one really big issue that we’ve got in this area in terms of agriculture is capacity and the capacity to improve the agricultural sector in the area. Without somebody to specifically take these strategies forward it will be difficult.”  The plan has been in the works since early in the year. The process has been overseen by a committee chaired by Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Director for Area D Irene Perepolkin.