The City of Abbotsford is undertaking AgRefresh, a three stage planning process to review agricultural policies, bylaws, and regulations, and to establish a framework for ongoing bylaw compliance for land within the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). AgRefresh will update Official Community Plan (OCP) policy and Zoning Bylaw regulation, and prepare a bylaw compliance approach for farming areas.
Update: Given progress on the Provincial initiative to “revitalize the ALR and Agricultural Land Commission,” the City resumed a modified version of AgRefresh in April 2020. Review the PDS 040-2020 report to learn more.
Abbotsford is geographically the largest municipality in BC with a total area of 389km2, and nearly 75% of the City in the ALR. As one of the most intensively and diversely farmed areas in Canada, local agriculture produces a wide range of crop and livestock commodities making farming a significant part of Abbotsford's economy and community identity.
The agriculture industry is quickly changing and intensifying. Abbotsford farmers are looking to add value to their products to remain competitive by incorporating activities such as on-farm processing, farm retail, commercial events, and agri-tourism experiences.
The City has demonstrated its commitment to agriculture by gaining greater insight and understanding of this sector. The 2011 Agriculture Strategy provided a vision for the health and growth of agriculture in Abbotsford, with a recommendation for the City to undertake a rural area plan, which AgRefresh aims at addressing in part. Also, the City’s recently updated OCP, provides a high level vision, policies and guidelines to enhance and protect agricultural integrity.
On March 14, 2016, Council endorsed the AgRefresh guiding principles and directed staff to begin a three stage planning process (view Report No. PDS 031-2016):
- Stage 1: Conduct background research
- Stage 2: Explore new policy directions
- Stage 3: Prepare policy and regulation for adoption (we are here)
The AgRefresh process is organized around a list of tasks and engagement activities, with the outcomes of each stage summarized in a report to council.
Progress and Reports
Stage 1 focused on understanding the current state of agriculture in Abbotsford. Community and industry engagement helped identify trends, opportunities, challenges, and key themes for further work in Stage 2.
Engagement conducted in early 2016 included a community open house, as well as meetings and workshops with government agencies, industry representatives, and City committees.
Stage 1 findings are summarized in the Background Research Report, received by Council October 3, 2016.
Stage 2 provided an important opportunity to engage with the agricultural community and industry stakeholders to identify key themes and discuss the agricultural land use topics most important and relevant to farming in Abbotsford.
Through a series of initiatives (online survey, workshop, open house, meetings), the City received feedback on a range of key AgRefresh topics. This supported preparation of the New Directions Report, setting a high level framework for the development of detailed policy and regulation in Stage 3.
Stage 2 work is summarized in the New Directions Report, received by Council July 31, 2017.
AgRefresh is currently in Stage 3, preparing draft policies and regulations that build on the Stage 2 New Directions.
Coordinating with the Provincial ALR/ALC Revitalization
While there has been significant progress and discussion on specific policies and regulations for each AgRefresh topic, the City is closely monitoring the on-going Provincial initiative to "revitalize the ALR and ALC".
Due the notable overlap of topics under review through AgRefresh and the Provincial "revitalization", AgRefresh was temporarily paused in April 2018 to ensure the City can effectively coordinate its work with the outcomes of the Provincial initiative.
On April 6, 2020, given Provincial progress on its ALR and ALC "revitalization" initiative, the City resumed a modified version of AgRefresh. Relaunch details are provided in the PDS 040-2020 staff report.
Stage Progress and Next Steps
A range of engagement initiatives were held between November 2017 and January 2018 to hear community feedback on a range of 'early ideas' for updating City agriculture policies and regulations.
Feedback was received through open houses, an online questionnaire, as well as meetings/ workshops with industry stakeholders, City Committees, and government agencies. A Stage 3 Engagement Results Report, summarizing this input, was presented to Council on February 26, 2018.
Next steps involve working with the engagement input, conducting supplemental research, and analyzing recent Provincial regulation changes to prepare draft recommendations.