Record year for agriculture sales and profits

BC’s agriculture minister said 2016 was a record year for agriculture in the province.

Agriculture minister Norm Letnick says the agriculture industry in B.C. is going great and he has the figures to prove it.

Letnick was addressing the B.C. Fruit Growers annual convention in Penticton. But before delving into his speech, the B.C. Minister of Agriculture summed up the province’s financial position.

“I just want to make sure you understand the context. There are a lot of good uses of limited resources,” said Letnick, explaining that he expected calls for more spending after his speech.

But the industry, he said, is looking positive.

“We have a great story,” said Letnick. The agriculture industry, he added, generated $13 billion in sales, $440 million in profit.

“That’s the highest agrifood receipts we have ever had in this province,” said Letnick, adding that the profit level also set a record.

“While some of you are thinking wow, I wish I had a profit … even in our industry, things have changed,” said Letnick, listing investment in replant, new varieties and marketing as factors.

“You’ve shown the world that we have a valuable product, that requires a different price than just a commodity,” he said. “That has helped us make some money in agrifoods.

Letnick said that not only were there record profits and record sales in the agriculture industry last year, there was also record employment.

“Almost 63,000 people are now employed directly in agriculture, compared to about 56,000 the year before,” said Letnick, noting the increase was happening province-wide, not just the Lower Mainland.

“It’s not just lifestyle anymore, it’s a profitable endeavour,” said Letnick. There are storm clouds on the horizon, though, in the form of growing protectionism in the U.S.

According to Letnick, most of his time right now is spent planning how to continue having good relations with the U.S.

“We can’t afford to sit by and keep our fingers crossed,” he said.

Other speakers addressed the Columbia River Treaty, and its effect on the growth of the agriculture, especially fruit, in Washington State. The current term of the treaty ends in 2024 and the BCFGA is pushing to be represented at the negotiations.

Penticton MLA Dan Ashton shared a story about comparing family farms with a roommate while he was attending college in Washington: his family had about five acres under cultivation, while his roommate’s family had 1,200.

“It was a real eye-opener, coming from an area where the average farm is seven acres,” said Ashton.

Richard Cannings, MP for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, also talked about how the water reserves controlled under the treaty have fed the Washington Agriculture Industry.

“They have gone from being about the same size as us to being 100 times our size,” said Cannings. “That is something we should be looking at when we renegotiate that treaty.”