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PRRD, province discuss B.C. agri-tech

Rural directors continue to push ag ministry for better consultation, communication

The Ministry of Agriculture gave an update to the PRRD on Thursday about the growing mulit-million dollar agricultural technology sector in B.C.

In B.C., 160 companies utilize some form of agri-tech, generating $500 million in revenue in 2019 and creating 2,200 jobs.

Agri-Tech Land Use Secretariat Ron Bronstein says there’s no universally agreed upon definition for agri-tech, and set out to get a better understanding when he started his role last June.

“There’s some companies in B.C. that have done some work over the last 10 years now, they’re developing some technologies and some new innovations, and they’re working closely with both the farming, ranching, aquaculture areas,” said Bronstein. “What agri-tech is all about is improving efficiency or output and production.”

Organic and regenerative farming are two industries utilizing agri-tech, said Bronstein.

“Organic farming for the most part, was about not using any kind of artificial pesticide, biocides, etc., on the farm property,” said Bronstein. “It was around producing products that were guaranteed and didn’t have those chemicals or residues.”

Bronstein's presentation also briefly mentioned the B.C. food task force report, which was savagely critiqued by PRRD directors last year for its lack of understanding of the unique challenges faced by the agriculture industry in northeast B.C.

"From what I heard when I joined the ministry that there were some issues from number of a local governments around province about not enough consultation," said Bronstein. 

Area E Director Dan Rose says that hasn't changed. 

"Recognize that the northeast is by the largest agro-business, not agro-hobby area of the province. There's millions of millions of dollars that flow through our economy, and through B.C.'s economy, every year, generating inputs," said Rose.

"For you to sit there on the phone and muse about whether we have a college up here or not shows the ignorance of the Ministry of Agriculture and their total lack of interest in our area." 

Area D Director Leonard Hiebert pointed out that regenerative farming is already well established in the north and asked Bronstein to convince the ministry to spend some time in the region. 

"Have them actually come past Hope up to take a look at the struggles we have here. It's really hard to put it to them in just saying it. They actually have to come and see what what we're dealing with," said Hiebert. "And maybe the strategies will change a little bit."

Agriculture Minister Lana Popham has been invited several times to no avail, Hiebert added.

"I think a lot of communities took a look that food report that came out and shook their heads pretty hard," he said. 

Area B Karen Goodings says the north remains misunderstood. 

"I'm going to suggest that Director Hiebert has made the correct comment - that nobody down south, including even yourself, understands the northeast," Goodings told Bronstein. "So I think we do need to have some better communication."

Goodings added that agriculture in the south would be barren without irrigation, something northern farmers largely do without, depending on the weather instead. 

Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative. Email