Canada: The Future Of Agricultural Land In British Columbia

Last Updated: December 15 2015
Article by Olga Rivkin

Since the 1970s, land deemed suit­able for agriculture in British Columbia has been placed in the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The purpose of the ALR is to preserve agricultural land for farm uses. If an owner wishes to use ALR land for a non-farm use, they need to seek the permission of the Agricul­tural Land Commission, a governmental authority responsible for administering the ALR. Local governments have lim­ited authority to regulate the use of ALR land within their jurisdiction.

Over the past few years, the Prov­ince of British Columbia has made a number of amendments to the regula­tory regime governing the ALR: the commission is now required to consider social and economic values – as well as farming – when making decisions affecting certain areas of British Co­lumbia; medical marijuana production facilities are now permitted in the ALR; and the rules respecting the operation of wineries and cideries, and the leasing of farm land have been relaxed. The fol­lowing will examine how these amend­ments may impact local governments.

How the ALR Works

The regulatory regime governing the use of land in the ALR consists primari­ly of the Agricultural Land Commission Act1 and the Agricultural Land Reserve Use, Subdivision and Procedure Regulation.2 The ALR is administered by the commission, an administrative body established under the Act. The members of the commission are appointed by the province.

The stated purposes of the ALR are to preserve agricultural land, encour­age farming, and encourage local gov­ernments to accommodate farm uses.3 The term "farm use" generally refers to farming of land, plants, and animals and similar activities designated by the regulation. The term "non-farm use" refers to all land uses that are not farm uses.

Unless permitted by the regulation, if an owner wishes to use ALR land for a non-farm use, they must apply to the commission to permit the use or to exclude the land from the ALR. If the proposed use would lead to an amend­ment to a local government land use law, the commission requires the local government's consent before permitting the use.4

The regulation contains laundry lists of uses that are permitted in the ALR and cannot be prohibited by a local gov­ernment.5 By adding to these lists, the province can relax or tighten the ALR regime at its discretion.

Socio-economic Considerations

On September 5, 2014, the province divided the ALR into two conceptual zones: Zone 1 and Zone 2. Zone 1 in­cludes areas on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast, in the Okanagan and in the Lower Mainland.6 Zone 2 includes areas in northern and eastern British Columbia.

As amended, the Act requires that, in Zone 2, the commission consider not only the purposes of the ALR regime (to preserve agricultural land and en­courage farming), but also economic, cultural, and social values, along with regional and community planning ob­jectives.

The likely purpose of this amend­ment is to ensure that, especially in resource development areas, the com­mission's decisions (for example, to permit a non-farm use or to exclude land from the ALR) are grounded in more than farming considerations. One can hypothesize that the socio-economic considerations of the commission will generally be consistent with those of the provincial government.

That being said, the commission does not have unlimited authority to override local land use planning. In instances where the proposed non-farm use or exclusion from the ALR would lead to an amendment to a local govern­ment land use law, the commission still requires local government approval to proceed.

Medical Marijuana Production

On May 7, 2015, the province pre­scribed that the production of medical marijuana in accordance with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR)7 is a farm use.8 Local governments cannot prohibit this use without the approval of the province.

Concurrently with the amendment, the province suggested by-law standards for local governments in respect of medical marijuana production facilities (MMPFs). Among other things, MMPFs should:

  • have a minimum setback of no more than 30 metres from any water­course;
  • have a maximum lot coverage of no less than 35 percent, and a maximum height of no less than 15 metres;
  • have minimum setbacks between 15 to 30 metres (at the local govern­ment's discretion) from any property line;
  • have a minimum setback of no more than 30 metres from any neighbour­ing residential use outside of the ALR if a buffer is used, and 60 me­tres if a buffer is not used. (Buffers can combine separation, vegetation, and fencing to mitigate the impacts of farming and urban activities); and
  • have a minimum setback of no more than 150 metres from any neigh­bouring park and school ...9

Pursuant to the MMPR, medical marijuana must be produced indoors, at a site with restricted access.10 As such, adding MMPFs as a permitted farm use means that local governments will have limited authority to regulate potentially large secure bunkers, the construction and use of which is governed by federal regulation. The strongly suggested pro­vincial by-law standards further curb the local government authority.11

The full impact of this amendment on local governments cannot yet be as­sessed. It will likely depend on the num­ber of licenses and the location of such facilities within the local government.

Wineries and Cideries

On June 15, 2015, the province amended the regulation to relax per­mitted uses associated with wineries, cideries, meaderies, breweries, and dis­tilleries.

Before June 15, only wineries and ci­deries were permitted in the ALR. These operations were subject to a number of restrictions. Most notably, the sale of alcoholic beverages (other than the local product) required the consent of the com­mission and, often, the local government. This made it difficult for winery and cidery operators to open a full-service restaurant in support of their business.

As of June 15, breweries, distilleries, and meaderies, as well as wineries and cideries, are permitted in the ALR. These businesses can now sell their own and other alcoholic beverages, provided that the beverage is to be consumed immedi­ately. This will likely facilitate the open­ing of full-service restaurants in the ALR.

Local governments cannot prohibit the above uses without provincial ap­proval, but can likely anticipate some associated practical concerns, such as access, traffic, policing, and the like.

Leasing Farm Land

On June 15, 2015, the province clarified that a farm can be operated by a person other than a farm owner, provided that the operation is pursuant to a lease that stipulates that the leased land may be used only for one or more farm uses.12 In and of itself, this amendment is not likely to impact local governments. However, it may enable more businesses in the ALR to be operated by non-local entities.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the recent amendments to the ALR regime enable farmers to do more with their land, including leasing it to a third party and – in some areas – applying for a non-farm use based on socio-economic considerations.

On the whole, the amendments are likely to be welcomed by property own­ers and businesses. Whether they will be equally welcomed by local governments is too soon to tell. Some of the uses – such as MMPFs – may be politically controversial, especially if operated pursuant to a lease by an entity that has little local presence. Local governments should anticipate the newly permitted uses and prepare as best they can.


1 S.B.C. 2002, c. 36.

2 B.C. Reg. 171/2002.

3 Agricultural Land Commission Act, section 6.

4 Ibid, ss. 20 and 25.

5 Regulation, ss. 2 and 3 (4).

6 This term typically refers to areas around Metro Vancouver.

7 MMPR is prescribed under the federal Controlled Drug and Substances Act, S.C. 1996, c. 19.

8 Despite being a farm use under the Act, MMPFs do not qualify for a property tax break available for other farm uses (see Classifica­tion of Land as a Farm Regulation, B.C. Reg. 411/95 under the Assessment Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 20).

9 May 7, 2015, News Release

10 MMPR, s. 14.

11 For most local governments, the by-law stan­dards are suggestions only. For a few local governments, they are mandatory (see the Local Government Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 323 and the Right to Farm Regulation, B.C. Reg. 187/2001 under that Act).

12 Regulation, clause 2 (2) (q).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Olga Rivkin
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Miller Thomson LLP
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Miller Thomson LLP
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions