An Agriculture Plan is being created in Lacombe County to ensure its primary industry remains strong.
Feedback from about 300 residents was gathered through a mail-out and a public meeting at the county office in the spring.
A discussion paper was created using that input and went to council for a first look last week. It will be debated at more length at a Sept. 23 council committee meeting.
Five main areas are addressed in the plan: development and land use planning; agriculture communication plan; county infrastructure; weed, pest and crop disease management; and water management. Almost two dozen recommendations follow.
Many of the suggestions are often already practise, such as encouraging development on marginal farmland and ensuring new developments are designed to be sensitive to their surroundings.
County commissioner Terry Hager agrees the county is doing many of the things highlighted in the plan.
“But there are some things that have been identified that we could be doing better. That’s relative to some of our planning issues and how we protect agricultural land and accommodate the agricultural community,” he said.
The plan suggests protection measures by creating agricultural zones where most development would not be allowed.
Other ideas include: the creation of agricultural “hubs” for farm-related businesses and the creation of agricultural protection districts with restrictions on subdividing valuable farmland.
Other recommendations revolve around providing more education and public input opportunities around issues such as water and environmental management, and weed, pest and disease management.
A survey of county residents found widespread satisfaction with almost every aspect of the county and its operations.
Among the few exceptions, only 29 per cent of residents polled believe the county’s existing infrastructure is adequate to handle future commercial and industrial growth. Thirty five per cent believe it isn’t adequate and 39 per cent were neutral.
Asked whether infrastructure was adequate for future residential growth, 37 per cent agreed, 30 per cent disagreed and 33 per cent were neutral.
Not surprisingly, a recommendation going forward is to pave more roads, a common request in rural municipalities. County bridges should also be built stronger and wider to handle modern farm equipment and road capacities upgraded.
Hager said for a county of 10,000 people, Lacombe County has a good paved road network.
Bridges have also been high on council’s priority list. A $131 million bridge replacement program, which includes a replacement timetable for the municipality’s 161 bridges and culverts, including 11 major bridges, is already in place.
After next month’s council review, it is expected staff will be directed to come back with recommended policy changes early next year.
Once approved, the agricultural plan will then be used as the county develops its Municipal Development Plan.