The Regional District of Central Okanagan’s Economic Development Commission (COEDC) engaged MDB Insight to develop an Agricultural Asset inventory and an analysis of the sector, including key opportunities for growth and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
The Central Okanagan’s Agriculture and Agri-food sector is defined by its restrictive geography and a climate suitable to a diverse range of agricultural activities. The former is a function of mountain valley landscapes that restrict development, and the latter has allowed for an agricultural sector that could not exist elsewhere in Canada.
Since the first apple trees were planted in 1859, agriculture has been a major contributor to the local economy. The climate of Central Okanagan creates opportunities to grow high-value tree fruits and wine grapes, which are the core product lines of the sector today. As of the December 2018 Canadian Business Counts released by Statistics Canada, there are 794 agri-food businesses in the Central Okanagan the top three sectors by a total number of businesses are1:
Fruit and tree nut farming (299)
Other Crop Farming (103)
Beverage Manufacturing (74)
These sectors highlight the market requirement for high-value crops and value-added production due to both land restriction and cost.
A major component of the sector’s current and future success is the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) created in 1974 currently protecting 4,613,162 hectares (5% of the total area) of prime agricultural land within British Columbia (BC). The ALR constitutes approximately 224,780 hectares2 or 9% of the Central Okanagan’s overall area, ensuring prime agriculture land in the region is protected. This protection has served to mitigate the growth and resulting land development pressures experienced in other jurisdictions.
Central Okanagan has become a community of choice in Canada. The population is projected to increase by 27,559 people by 2028. This projected population growth, combined with rising labour and housing costs, will put pressure on the agriculture and agri-food sector to increase productivity and profitability. This increased population growth and interest in the Central Okanagan has been accompanied by an expansion in the tourism industry with a major component being agri-tourism driven primarily by the region’s wine industry.
The agriculture industry is especially susceptible to the challenges of an ageing workforce. Central Okanagan, like much of North America, is susceptible to an increasing trend toward farm consolidation due in large part to a lack of viable successions strategies for the family-run farm. The trend toward consolidation is attracting investors to Central Okanagan but introduces risk with the reduction of diversity and stability of the industry.