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Agriculture council wants food, farming on the leadership agenda

Encouraged by the release of Liberal leadership contender George Abbott's recent position statement on agriculture in the province, the B.C. Agriculture Council (BCAC) is encouraging the other NDP and Liberal candidates to do the same if they want farmers' votes.

It's also encouraging "all farmers, ranchers and anyone else with an interest in agriculture to get directly involved" in both leadership votes, according to a press release issued today.

"We have had many supportive Ministers over the years, but agriculture has never been high on the agenda for either the Premier of the Province or the Government overall," stated Garnet Etsell, chair of the council, in the release. "This is an unprecedented opportunity to significantly raise the profile of agriculture within the Leadership of both the Government and Official Opposition, so we are persuading everyone to get directly involved and to vote for the Leader with the strongest pro-agriculture position."

Last week Abbott released an action plan in which he promises, should he become premier, to enhance funding to the Agricultural Land Commission, to expand farming extension services, and to fund a multi-year branding and marketing program for B.C. products. In total, he promised $15 million in new commitments to agriculture.

These are some of the same policies that the BCAC recommended to the standing committee on finance and government services as part of the consultation process for the 2011/12 provincial budget.

Number one on the list was that the ministry provide $6 million over three years to help develop an industry-led marketing program; a way of identifying and promoting made-in-B.C. food to consumers.

Provincial funding for an identical program, buyBC, was cut by the BC Liberals when they came into power in 2001. In the 2008 agriculture plan, the provincial government announced its intention to once again allocate funding towards a local food marketing program.

"That was agreed to by cabinet," BCAC executive director Andrew Dolberg told The Tyee in November, 2010. "The funding was never implemented."

"Given the interest in local food the timing would be right to make an investment that so we can work with all the players in the food chain," Dolberg said in the same article. "There's a lot of good work going on to promote local products, but there's no real coordinated effort right across the board. Without that core funding, it makes it more difficult."

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