WHEREAS rural municipalities across Alberta have long supported agricultural operators and their success while preserving and protecting quality of life in the community; and
WHEREAS agritourism is a business model that is growing in popularity as agricultural producers recognize a need and opportunity to diversify their operations and supplement their incomes; and
WHEREAS there is a growing public interest to engage in rural experiences and outdoor recreational activities; and
WHEREAS by combining agriculture and tourism, agritourism offers rural experiences to urban residents, opportunities for cultural exchange, and economic diversification for farmers; and
WHEREAS farmers who wish to grow or diversify their operations through agritourism are subject to financial and regulatory requirements, which can impact the viability of their applications; and
WHEREAS when considering agribusiness/agritourism-related development applications, municipal decision-makers must balance neighbourhood impacts and potential concerns related to greater noise, traffic, and other effects that could change the overall character of a community;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request the Government of Alberta to undertake a joint provincial/municipal review of agribusiness and agritourism operations that includes considerations related to sector promotion and incentivization, municipal/provincial regulatory alignments, potential transitional building code or taxation options for operators, and other matters to help clarify and align the responsible growth of these value-added sectors in Alberta.
The agriculture industry is evolving. While enhancing local food security remains an essential part of agribusiness, in recent times there is also an increasing interest and need for sector growth beyond primary production to include agriculture processing, value-added opportunities, diversification of agriculture through innovative practices, and related activities, such as agritourism.
Public sector approval processes and regulatory mechanisms have not kept pace with Alberta’s social and economic shifts; in its current state, the environment does not allow for more diversified agricultural opportunities in rural communities. In fact, nearly half of Alberta farmers indicated that they had encountered difficulties in obtaining municipal approval for their agritourism operations.
This gap triggered Sturgeon County to undertake an Agribusiness/Agritourism Review in 2021 to assess its own regulatory conditions and seek input on improving investment certainty for the agricultural community, enhancing local food security, and supporting economic growth and diversification. The rising need to understand and manage the impacts of agribusiness or agritourism operations on neighbouring properties was also reviewed based on a goal of protecting and preserving communities and rural quality of life.
The review used a community-based task force model to consider and advance the following elements:
Provincial Advocacy on Agritourism
In parallel to the considerations noted above, while municipalities in Alberta have broad authority under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to regulate local land use and to support diversification, there are areas and gaps where municipal and provincial support requires further study and potential alignment and/or updating. Some examples include:
Promoting industry sustainability and enabling value-added options will contribute to a diversified local and provincial economy and help to ensure local food security. Local and provincial support for the continued framework development of agritourism and agribusiness should be considered an essential part of ongoing rural advocacy.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Municipal Affairs
The Government of Alberta recognizes the critical role of rural municipalities in promoting local agriculture and agritourism to support economic diversification. The Municipal Government Act (MGA) grants municipalities authority to control the use and development of land through local plans to promote, incentivize, and prioritize local agricultural operations, and respects municipal autonomy in those matters.
Municipal Affairs is supportive of working with Agriculture and Irrigation, and Jobs, Economy and Trade, among others, to consider identifying opportunities for alignment in the prioritization of agribusiness and agritourism with local governments as well as to explore how best to promote these sectors in Alberta municipalities.
The Government of Alberta recognizes the value in expanding upon existing businesses, such as farms, to create further economic opportunities. Municipalities may offer property tax incentives, as enabled by the MGA, to encourage economic development and reduce the burden of starting a new business.
A farm building, which is a building other than a residence that is used for farming operations, is exempt from assessment and taxation. If the development of agribusiness changes the use of the farm building such that it is no longer used for farming operations, then the building would become assessable and taxable at market value. This type of change often occurs on farm property where a farm building is converted into a commercial or retail operation. However, a municipality may choose to use Section 364.2 of the MGA to defer, reduce, or cancel taxes for a multi-year period to incent development of such businesses.
Farm buildings are also exempt from the requirements of the building code. This exemption means that building, fire, and safety requirements may not be required to be incorporated within the building construction and design. The exemption is based on the limited use of the building as described for farm buildings, limited occupancy by persons, and only for farm personnel authorized to be in the building. Safety of Albertans and building occupants remains top of mind and is the objective of the building code.
If the owners of farm buildings wish to create a value-add agritourism/agribusiness element to their existing operations using the farm building, the farm building may no longer fall within the classification as a ‘farm building” and would be subject to the building code. Changing the use and/or occupancy by the public for a farm building, without complying to the building code, could present an unsafe condition related to occupant safety.
The Alberta Municipal Affairs response indicates a willingness to work with RMA, rural municipalities, and other stakeholders to identify opportunities to enhance the province’s agribusiness and agritourism sectors. The response also outlines several existing municipal tools and assessment/tax policies intended to support the agriculture sector.
Based on the Municipal Affairs response, RMA assigns this resolution a status of Accepted in Principle. However, it is important to note that RMA is still waiting on response from other ministries, that may impact this status, particularly Alberta Agriculture and Irrigation.