Asians eyeing B.C. farmland

Published: April 29, 2014
BC-Asians

Chilliwack-area farmer Andrew Arkesteyn-Vogler is looking for more farmland to lease to serve his Crisp Organics business. Teri Westerby/Submitted/png files

GLENDA LUYMES
VANCOUVER DESI

In waterlogged B.C., particularly in spring, international headlines about drought and food shortages seem far-fetched and far away.

But to real estate appraiser Rudy Nielsen, a man who makes his living looking at the big picture, the threats seem very real and potentially very profitable — if B.C. can recognize what it has before it’s too late.

“We need to keep a better handle on who owns our farmland and who owns our water,” Nielsen said.

B.C. is the only western province that has no restrictions on the foreign ownership of farmland. In fact, B.C. doesn’t even track foreign owners.

In Alberta, non-residents and foreign-controlled companies can own up to 20 acres of farmland. In Manitoba it’s 40 acres, and in Saskatchewan 10 acres (although entities that are partly foreign-owned but controlled by local residents can own up to 320 acres).

With the president of the World Bank predicting “fights over water and food” within the next five to 10 years, and a recent Chinese government study showing that nearly a fifth of China’s soil is contaminated, Nielsen believes B.C.’s food-producing land will become increasingly sought after.

The protection of B.C. farmland is also a chief concern of the B.C. Agriculture Council, although they have “no official position” on foreign ownership, said vice-chair Garnet Etsell.

But the “blip on the radar” is growing, and Etsell believes the issue is likely to become more significant in the future.

“You’ve got people coming from China and India who view land here as a bargain,” he said. “In the face of food shortages, we’re the envy of the world.”

When Landcor, Nielsen’s company, began appraising ranches in the 1980s, the calculations were simple and based on the number of cows and calves the land could support, he said. In recent years, water rights have begun to play a larger role.

At Tophay Agri-Industries in Vanderhoof, the international push for greater food security has meant a booming business exporting B.C. hay for cattle in China and the Middle East. The bales are compressed and shipped by rail to Prince Rupert and then go by boat overseas.

Tophay administrator Scott Muller said the company can’t keep up with demand. He said it receives two or three calls each week from prospective clients.

“We have an abundance of water in B.C., and with that, the ability to grow grass,” Muller explained. “What these countries are really buying is our water, converted to hay.”

Though many believe the price of local farmland will eventually be driven by international demand for food, there’s little evidence it’s happening right now.

Jean-Pierre Gervais, chief agricultural economist for Farm Credit Canada, said that while farmland purchases by “non-traditional” groups, such as foreign companies and investment or pension funds, tend to attract attention, the bulk of farmland sales still occur between farmers.

FCC released its annual farmland values report two weeks ago, showing the average price of B.C. farmland rose by three per cent in 2013 following two years of insignificant gains.

Compared to Saskatchewan, where prices jumped 28.5 per cent in 2013, B.C. is experiencing a “cooling off” after double-digit increases in the five years preceding 2008, said Gervais, who views B.C. as the canary in the mine shaft, with price fluctuations happening here several years ahead of the rest of the country.

FCC senior appraiser Bill Wiebe, who is based in Abbotsford, sees “the odd occasion” where development potential influences the price of Fraser Valley farmland, but most often he sees the same trend as Gervais.

“By far, the bulk of farmland is bought by farmers,” he said.

That’s little comfort to Andrew Arkesteyn-Vogler, an organic farmer who doesn’t come from a big farm family.

Once a week for the last four years, the Abbotsford man has browsed B.C. real estate listings looking for affordable farmland. In the process, he has learned the language of land speculation.

“The listing will say, ‘Great holding property’ or ‘Near this or that subdivision,’ ” said Arkesteyn-Vogler. “What they really mean is, ‘This land will be worth a lot if you can get it out of the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve).’”

Arkesteyn-Vogler began his organic farm, Crisp Organics, in 2010. He owns 11 acres and leases another six. But with demand for his produce outpacing supply, he has started looking at land in the Interior.

“We’re in Zone 1 now, but we’re thinking about Zone 2 for the future,” he said, referring to proposed changes to the ALR that would divide B.C. farmland into two zones. “It’s significantly cheaper.”

Arkesteyn-Vogler is also hoping the provincial government will send speculators a “clear signal” that ALR land will remain farmland forever.

gluymes@theprovince.com

twitter.com/glendaluymes

 


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,





Featured

varsha

Ontario teen fighting superbugs with an assist from Indian home cooking

TOM SPEARS OTTAWA CITIZEN Like a lot of great discoveries, Varsha Jayasankar’s foray into how to kill superbugs with an extract from Indian food started…
Continue Reading »

File photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Low caste teen in India burnt alive after goats stray into neighbours’ field

CEN AGENCY A poor goat herder was burnt to death after greedy land owners doused him in petrol and set him ablaze because his goats…
Continue Reading »

Police are investigated a suspected murder in Surrey, B.C.

Police investigating suspected homicide in Surrey

SURREY NOW Police say an autopsy will be required to determine how Surrey’s 14th homicide of 2014 died. The body of the victim, a man…
Continue Reading »

LOCAL NEWS

varsha

Ontario teen fighting superbugs with an assist from Indian home cooking

TOM SPEARS OTTAWA CITIZEN Like a lot of great discoveries, Varsha Jayasankar’s foray into how to kill superbugs with an extract from Indian food started…
Continue Reading »

Police are investigated a suspected murder in Surrey, B.C.

Police investigating suspected homicide in Surrey

SURREY NOW Police say an autopsy will be required to determine how Surrey’s 14th homicide of 2014 died. The body of the victim, a man…
Continue Reading »

Today in History – Oct. 20

Advance THE CANADIAN PRESS Today in History for Oct. 20: On this date: In 1632, Sir Christopher Wren, British astronomer and architect, was born. He…
Continue Reading »

Don't Miss...

MINOR ATACKED

False confession leads police to arrest new suspect in sexual assault of 9-year-old Surrey girl

FRANK LUBA VANCOUVER DESI A man who confessed to the sexual assault of a nine-year-old girl in Surrey has been released and a 28-year-old man…
Continue Reading »

Dilwali Fest

Diwali Fest kicks off with IndiGlam fashion-fusion show (w/ video)

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI It was a classic mother-daughter argument that propelled Surrey’s Raji Khaira into a career of fashion design. Khaira, 25, grew up…
Continue Reading »

Vancouver Desi

Canada Place caught the eye of man who builds models in chalk (w/gallery)

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI When Jagdeep Singh Bihal moved to Vancouver from India two years ago and did some sightseeing around the city,  it was…
Continue Reading »

SURREY-VANCOUVER-MUMBAI

Diwali organizer inspired by memories of Mumbai revelry

LARISSA CAHUTE VANCOUVER DESI Vancouver’s Rohit Chokhani can still recall his childhood in Mumbai when Indian streets would light up with fireworks and life would…
Continue Reading »

SURREY-PIRATE RADIO

Surrey’s unlicensed Radio India to cease broadcasting in 120 days

PETER O’NEIL POSTMEDIA NEWS GATINEAU, Que. — One of B.C.’s “Pirate Radio” broadcasters boasted earlier this month of his powerful political connections, a vast public…
Continue Reading »


Bollywood Latest

Desi boobs Sonakshi SInha

Sonakshi Sinha enjoyed Tamil film debut with Lingaa

IANS Chennai  – Actress Sonakshi Sinha, who is making her Tamil debut opposite superstar Rajinikanth in upcoming Tamil actioner Lingaa, says she thoroughly enjoyed working…
Continue Reading »

Priyanka Chopra

Gallery: 20 Bollywood celebrities in their best and worst avatars

VANCOUVER DESI Every Bollywood star has come under fire for their style choices at  some point in their careers. Here we’ve taken a quick look…
Continue Reading »

reality TV

Himesh Reshammiya to record songs with reality show ‘India’s Raw Star’ contestants

IANS Mumbai – Composer Himesh Reshammiya, who made an appearance on the reality TV show “India’s Raw Star” as a guest mentor, was so moved…
Continue Reading »