Farmland at Reid Lake

B.C. farmland protected from reforestation

Regulation change closes loophole that allowed British company to buy up B.C. farms and convert them to forest for carbon offsets

The B.C. government has changed regulations to require a permit from the Agricultural Land Commission for large-scale tree-planting on agricultural land.

The change comes after a British-based food and drug company began buying up farms in the B.C. Interior and planting them with trees so it could advertise its global manufacturing business as carbon-neutral.

The new regulation requires a permit before planting trees on any protected agricultural property more than 20 hectares in size. It exempts trees grown for food production such as fruit or nuts and “agroforestry,” where trees and shrubs are incorporated into farm production for such uses as shelter belts or soil improvement.

Reckitt Benckiser Inc. suspended its tree planting program in June 2015 after local governments in the Prince George and Cariboo regions became concerned about local farm economies being weakened as cleared land was converted to coniferous forests.

Local government representatives disputed the company’s claim that it was only buying unproductive or abandoned farms. The program, called Trees For Change, began in 2006 with a goal of planting seven million trees, and that goal was mostly accomplished by the time the program was suspended.

A spokesperson said last spring the company would continue to maintain the planted areas and examine if it could switch its tree planting efforts to areas affected by bark beetles or fire rather than farmland.

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick initially said the ALC regulations were in place to prevent planting farmland for carbon offsets, but that was only if they were to be sold in a carbon trading market.