Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Farmland in BC and the ALR

There is an ongoing fear by some people in BC about the loss of farmland in the province. A fear that the agricultural land in BC is quickly lost, this is simply not the case.

The public is made to believe that great tracts of farmland are being lost to development in the province. Yes, land is being taken out of the ALR, but other land is being put in. The net loss of agricultural land has been almost zero. In 1974 there were 4 700 000 in the ALR, 33 years later the number is about the same.

The public is made to believe that the best land is being taken out of the ALR. Yes, some of the land on the island, in the lower mainland and in the Okanagan is of high value, but then so is the land in the Peace Country and in the Thompson Nicola region. As an example, the farm land in the Capital Region District is not of the best quality - lots of rock, not flat etc....

The public lead to believe that we will need this land to produce our food in the future. This argument simple ignores reality. The cost of labour and production of food elsewhere in the world is so much lower that we simply can not compete. Even if oil runs out and have to change to other modes of transportation, it will still be cheaper to use ships to send food over long distances.

The public is said to want local food. Great idea, but how much are you willing to spend? I feed a family of 5 half the time (2 people for the other weeks) - this means about 5lbs of vegetables or grains for a dinner. At $1 a pound, the meal can be done for under $10. Raise it to about $3 a pound and the meal gets much close to $20. Over a year this is an extra $2500 for dinners alone. Buying all my food local would add about $10 000 to my annual food bill. I would have to earn an extra $15 000 to be able to pay for this.

Much of the farm land in BC is under used and sitting quasi idle. You only need to go through the Cariboo and see how much land is not being used. This is land that can be used to grow onions, carrots, potatoes, garlic, grains and a lot more. right now it is sitting mainly in hay. Though the crops we can grow are not the more exciting ones.

The simple reality is that if we lost all the agricultural land in the southwest of BC and the Okanagan, we would still have in excess of 4 000 000 hectares of farm land. That land could produce enough grain calories for a population of 15 000 000. Some crop yield numbers:
  • Carrots - 40000 lbs per hectare - enough to feed 50 to 60 people 2 lbs each day for a year
  • Garlic - 20000 lbs per hectare - at 1/2 lb per family five per day, enough for 27 families
  • Potatoes - 85000 lbs per hectare - enough to feed 80 to 85 people 3 pounds a day for a year.
  • Berries - 25000 lbs per hectare - enough for a pound of fruit per day for a year for 70 people.
  • Cabbage - 90000 lbs per hectare - 2 pounds per person a day would mean 125 people.
The upshot is that we have a lot of land in BC for growing crops on and are in no danger of not having the land needed to provide for our food needs. There is no crisis at this time and there is unlikely to ever be a crisis. If we really needed to, we could produce enough food for the people in BC on 250 000 hectares in the Cariboo.

Most suburban family homes sit on about 7000 sq feet of land and could easily put 1500 sq feet of that into food production and produce 500 pounds of food in that area - add another 150 sq feet for a chicken coop and you can get close to 1000 eggs. Enough to meet the fresh produce and protien needs of a family of five for about half the year.


Sam Carroll said...

Thanks for your ideas. I'm wondering what you believe will power the ships that will bring foods in the future. We will likely be using massive amounts of coal for coal-to-liquid fuels on this planet, which buys us another decade or so but depletes coal reserves much more quickly. Do you believe sailing ships can still bring food more economically than local land can supply? I haven't even attempted the math yet on such a question.

Bernard von Schulmann said...

I am not at all convinced we will be seeing an significant energy shortage in the future. If fossil fuels become too expensive I am certain that ships will become electrically powered. We have no shortage of possible green electrical power sources.