New Farm Correspondence: Guide to Land Access Workshop

One of the goals of New Farm Development Initiative is connect new farmers in the region with training oportunities and knowledgeable mentors. As part of this goal, we offer support to new farm correspondents who wish to attend and travel to agriculture industry events. These correspondents assist us in linking to information and contacts available in our region and beyond and provide valuable insight into the value of attending such events.

About Cam

I am finishing my final year of an Environmental Studies degree at UNBC, and looking forward to getting more agricultural experience around the province in upcoming growing seasons! My experiences this past summer as an intern at an organic farm and aquaponics operation, hauling hay bales at a cattle and lamb farm, and cultivating our own plot of veggies taught me a lot about farming and the workload required in organic agriculture. I’m reading and learning a lot about permaculture and edible forest gardening, and look forward to implementing these progressive approaches when I finally have some land of my own.

Learning about Farmland

land access 2009 imageWhile the idea of having farmland to call your own is appealing to many of us, the task of finding and securing land can be daunting. The time required to navigate through complicated regulations and processes is substantial, but fortunately there are resources available to help us new farmers find land to cultivate. Jillian Merrick from Beyond the Market spent a few weeks in the fall travelling the Highway 16 corridor, delivering presentations on access to agricultural land for the benefit of prospective producers in our region. Whether you are looking to rent an acre to develop your skills or buy a quarter section of pasture, doing your homework beforehand could save you a great deal of time and money in the long run.

After introducing ourselves and hearing a bit about agriculture in the Regional District of Fraser Fort George, the Prince George session got underway, complete with information on what options are available, how to pursue them, and how much farm land costs in northern BC. An obvious but oft overlooked tip for land-seekers is to know the history of your potential purchase by talking to neighbours; they may know something about the land that will affect how you develop and use it in the future. Visibility, security, and invasive and noxious weeds are other important aspects to keep in mind for farmland, which may be somewhat dependant on your intended uses of the property.

The workshop also covered information on farm business structures, an important consideration for a future farmer. Sole proprietorships are common and straightforward, while partnerships and cooperatives provide options for couples, families, or communities to invest in an agricultural endeavour together. Corporations are costly to start and maintain, but their separation from owners and limited liability provide a good option for larger operations. Community farms were also mentioned, in which the farm is owned, operated, and managed by a group of people who all contribute to the business in finances, labour, or other skills (such as accounting or marketing). The right structure for you depends on your intentions and aspirations, and may be affected by how you intend to sell your farm products.

The fun part of the workshop (in my opinion) was looking at available land and getting an idea of what is available and how much it would cost. Land in the north is generally much less expensive than land in other parts of BC, when similar sizes and types of property are compared. Prices per acre range from $500 to $3000 for large undeveloped lots, while developed and small lots closer to towns tend to range from $3000 to $20,000 per acre. However, the best option for young farmers with limited financial capital is often to not buy land at all. There are a number of business arrangements and agreements that can give a farmer access to land, without the hassle and commitment associated with a purchase.

land 2.0 imageRenting and leasing land are the most common forms of land-access agreements, and the costs and benefits can be negotiated by the landowner and farmer. Communication between the landowner and farmer is essential, and a memorandum of understanding, contract, and/or license can be a good way to ensure that the arrangement is clearly defined. Long-term options are available, such as a registered lease (which can stay with the land even after it is sold), although it is important to note that a lease on a portion of title that lasts 3 years or more is considered a subdivision, and may not be possible on ALR land. Other options include a rolling lease, which is renewed annually, or a leasehold subdivision, which can be approved by the ALC and give the leaseholder the ability to use the leased land for a greater length of time. While the formal paperwork should include details on acceptable uses of land, access rights, ownership of improvements, and other specifics, creative solutions are acceptable; a crop-share can give the landowner a portion of produce or profit from the farm, without requiring upfront cost to the farmer.

Another option for up-and-coming farmers is the incubator farm, a parcel of land on an existing farm that is given to a young farmer for a season (or several), with guidance from experienced farmers. Models and resources regarding both progressive and conventional arrangements can be found online, and a plethora of information on other land-access arrangements is available from government ministries and non-governmental organizations. Two resource guide were distributed during teh workshop: The Land Conservancy of BC’s Guide to Farmland Access Agreements, and Young Agrarians’ Land Access Guide 2.0.

While the information in workshops and land access guides is valuable and worthwhile, it is generally recommended that you consult a lawyer before signing any legally binding documents. Best of luck to those of you looking for land!