British Columbian farmers and environmentalists share a common interest in maintaining a healthy and productive environment, but are often cast on opposite sides of issues.

The first ever Forum on Agriculture and the Environment challenged this thinking by bringing together leaders from agriculture, environmental organizations, government, First Nations and local communities to create understanding, and identify ways to work together to address the challenges and opportunities facing agriculture and the environment in BC.

Peter Bloome inspired many in the room with his keynote address on the successes and challenges of the Oregon Environmental Council, where environmentalists and agriculturists have been working to address issues of shared interest for the past 10 years. He encouraged participants to focus on what may be possible while pointing to the practical reality of the situation.

“The number one indicator that we can accomplish environmental goals with agriculture is that agriculture producers are economically viable,” he said, describing the Oregon experience. “Once we had recognition that agriculture needs to be viable, the discussion took us to all kinds of places.”

In addition to growing food, farmers produce environmental goods including clean air, water, wildlife habitat and other ecological functions. 

Whether they are working independently or through programs like Environmental Farm Planning and Beneficial Management Practices, farmers are making significant investments in maintaining these social and environmental values.

David Bradbeer from the Delta Farmland Wildlife Trust and Lee Hesketh, program manager for the Farmland – Riparian Interface Stewardship Program (FRISP) managed by the BC Cattlemen’s Association, spoke to some of the successful initiatives that are already underway in BC’s agriculture sector.

“Farmers may be traditional, but we get things done. We are the ones who are making changes because we always have to adapt to make a go of it,” said Lee Hesketh.

The Forum on Agriculture and the Environment was an excellent first step in creating a foundation of trust for future collaboration and partnership. Participants from across the spectrum recognized the value of creating this kind of opportunity.

“We don’t get enough of these opportunities to come together at the same table, and that’s one of the reasons that mistrust can occur,” said John Werring from the David Suzuki Foundation. “Kudos to the agriculture sector for bringing these groups together.”

Looking ahead, the challenge will be turning goodwill and relationships into constructive solutions for farmers, conservation groups, and the environment.

“There are some tough questions to address, but today we saw a shared desire to work together, and perception that our challenges are not insurmountable,” says Reg Ens, general manager of the BC Agriculture Council. “Now it’s up to us to take a leadership role in engaging the general farm population.”

The Forum on Agriculture and the Environment was a collaborative project between The Investment Agriculture Foundation of BC (IAF), the BC Agriculture Council (BCAC), and the Agriculture Environment Programs Committee (AEI).

Funding for the Forum on Agriculture and the Environment was provided by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the BC Ministry of Agriculture through the Agriculture Environment Initiative. (AEI12-015)