Trees-on-farmland program ‘not expanding’

British company bought three more B.C. farms, but now considering planting areas burned or beetle-killed instead

RB Trees notice on a 130 ha farm at Reid Lake near Prince George. It has been planted with trees after being cleared with horses by homesteaders in the early 1900s.

A British-based manufacturing company is considering switching its B.C. tree-planting program from farmland to areas deforested by fire or pine beetles.

Reckitt Benckiser Group plc added another three farms to its B.C. land holdings over the summer, prompting an accusation in the legislature that it was breaking its promise to suspend planting trees on farmland. The company halted the program in June after more than 10,000 ha of farmland in the Peace, Prince George and Cariboo regions were acquired to use as carbon offsets for the company’s world-wide operations.

Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington released title documents for a 320 ha grain and cattle farm purchased near Dawson Creek in July, three weeks after the company, now known by its initials RB, said the program was halted.

Asked about the timing of the purchase, RB issued a statement saying the company had three signed agreements to buy more B.C. farms when it “paused” its tree planting program to review it. Local governments have objected to productive farmland being reforested, and the effect it would have on farming communities.

“No action has been taken on these properties as RB continues to consult British Columbians on the future of this program,” the company said, adding discussions have continued with neighbouring landowners, provincial, local governments and MLAs.

“Many have highlighted the need for reforestation on lands that have been depleted by the pine beetle or wildfires,” the company said. “It is an option we are exploring.”

Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick said he had a presentation from RB, with suggestions about alternatives to planting more trees on farmland.

“I’m not at liberty yet to disclose those because they were given to us confidentially but I have reason to be optimistic,” Letnick said.

RB’s website says it has planted more than seven million trees in B.C. Letnick said the company has planted most of the 10,000 ha of farmland it acquired up until this spring, and the three new acquisitions bring the total to 12,000 ha.

RB operates around the world, manufacturing and selling food, household and medical products under brands such as Calgon, French’s, Clearasil, Dettol, Scholl, Strepsils, Gaviscon and Woolite.

It describes its B.C. tree planting program as a way to offset carbon emissions from its operations, but it does not intend to trade or sell carbon offsets.

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