The Peace River Regional District is taking another look at whether a new Agricultural Advisory Committee (AAC) is needed, with board directors voting in favour of connecting with producer groups at their September 7, 2023 Electoral Area Directors Committee Meeting.

It’s been five years since an AAC was in place at the PRRD, with the previous committee being dissolved in August 2018 due to a lack of participation. A report detailing the history of the AAC was also received by the board at the September 7 meeting. 

Directors said they want to ensure local producers have an interest in taking part, before moving ahead with any formal process for a new committee.

Jill Copes from the Landry Women’s Institute and Nor’ Pioneer Women’s Institute was in attendance at the September 7 meeting, and noted she was representative on the previous agricultural committee – which she’d like to see return.

“This is the largest agricultural area in the province, and does not have an agricultural advisory group,” Copes said. “There are 38 AC committees throughout BC. The provincial guidelines suggest there is a need to connect with farm community beyond AAC members.”

“Your role is to advocate on behalf of residents, businesses, and industry, in support of a prosperous economy,” she added. 

The AAC was dissolved after the PRRD received a lack of responses for committee member nominations from local agriculture producer groups and associations.

Copes says she felt “things went sideways” when the PRRD’s regional agricultural plan was delegated to the AAC and that volunteer farmers simply couldn’t attend the volume of meetings, nor were most rural residents aware of AAC advertisements seeking member nominations placed in local newspapers by the PRRD.

In total, 63 meetings were held from 2002 to 2018, before the AAC was dissolved. Copes added that the women’s institute also sent a letter in April 2018, indicating that the PRRD’s agricultural plan would not work as presented.

“In reviewing whether this committee should be re-established, I think it’s very important that the rural residents have a voice that is heard – there are many agriculture issues that urban directors would not know anything about,” said Copes.  

Cope further noted she would prefer community groups to be invited in any future committee, over having designated individual members at large.

Longtime Peace Region residents Jim and Margaret Little sent a letter to the PRRD saying they would like to see the AAC re-established, noting while they understand that meetings weren’t well attended, it remains a potential voice for those living in the rural areas.

“The issues that are facing the agriculture community are increasing, and the voice of rural Peace residents is extremely critical,” reads their letter. “Local concerns are unique to the different areas of our area – what is important in one area may not have the same importance in another.”

“It is for certain that the rural needs, concerns, are very different from the urban ones. However, it is absolutely necessary that agriculture concerns of all areas are understood and considered,” they added.

Electoral Area C Director Brad Sperling says a lot has changed in the five years since the AAC was dissolved, and that it may be time for a second look – especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and recent wildfires fuelled by drought.

“The way this fire and drought and everything else is going, it’s going to keep changing,” Sperling said. “I think we really need to have a deep look at how to bring this back.”

PRRD CAO Shawn Dahlen said the board should determine where an AAC fits within their strategic plan, and if they want to consider it for their 2024 budget.

“Agriculture, as well as food security, is embedded right now in the strategic plan,” said Dahlen.

Electoral Area E Director Dan Rose said there’s time left to do outreach and make sure they’re including all relevant parties, as not everyone belongs to local producer groups such as grain commissions, cattle associations, or horticultural associations.

“We do know that membership in producer groups is not membership of everybody,” he said.

Electoral Area Director Committee meetings are also available for delegations to appear every month before the PRRD board, added Rose. 

“There’s always room, we have very few delegations that we entertain,” he said. “That’s always been wide open for producer groups and individuals to come here with concerns.”

Electoral Area B Director Jordan Kealy is in favour of bringing back the AAC, and said there’s a variety of complex issues facing agriculture in the Peace that require collective communication to the provincial government, noting he’d like to see the terms of reference for a future committee restructured.

“When it comes to communication of what goes forward to the government and how groups are viewed, I think we need to get everybody in the same room and try and work as a consolidated effort,” he said.

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 08, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Alaska Highway News   Fort St. John, British Columbia

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