A 2010 report suggests 80 per cent of farmers in the Cowichan Valley grossed less than $25,000 and 90 per cent less than $100,000. (Black Press File)

Seeds of dissent growing on Peninsula farms

Some farmers question CRD consultants’ report and disagree with aim to support first-time growers

Following the Capital Regional District’s (CRD) attempts to start a “foodland trust,” a consultants’ report has been sent to municipalities, which some Peninsula farmers say is flawed.

Establishing a land trust has been part of the CRD’s food and agriculture strategy as they want to secure land solely for agriculture, encourage new farmers and provide future food security, with Peninsula municipalities joining together to add appropriate land to the trust.

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The CRD committee overseeing the process accepted the Foodlands Access Program Feasibility Study and sent it to municipalities, with responses expected by July.

Opponents of the report question assertions regarding the use and productivity of the land, and especially the aim to assist entry-level farmers. The cost of the project is likely to be around $100,000–$120,000 per year, for the municipalities to cover long-term. This would include preparing the land, buying machinery and providing a website and advertising budget for the rookie farmers, which would appear to pit them against already squeezed local farmers.

Jason Austin of Gatton House Farm reflects the misgivings of many in the community.

“The CRD proposed that the municipalities and others spend millions to set up a handful of entrant farmers, and to continue to subsidize them into the future, yet in 2010, 90 per cent of all farmers on Vancouver Island grossed less than $100,000 before expenses. Despite the huge expense of taxpayer money there is little chance these entrant farmers would survive.”

ALSO READ: Saanich council nourishes regional foodland trust with unanimous endorsement

The News Review has seen 2010 figures from the Cowichan Valley suggesting that before expenses, 80 per cent of farmers grossed less than $25,000 and 90 per cent less than $100,000. Members of the agricultural community say these figures are largely echoed on the Peninsula, with a Central Saanich (CS) report from 2011 stating “..as a whole, the CS agricultural sector barely covered direct expenses, generated little gross margin and no return on investment.” In 2016, the same authors of the CRD report wrote one for Saanich called “District of Saanich Agriculture and Food Security Plan Background Report” that seemed to suggest 94 per cent of farms between two and 10 acres grossed less than $25,000. This appears to be in stark contrast to the CRD report, which predicts new farmers will be able to make $100,000 gross sales on just five acres.

Other misgivings persist, such as the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR) designation in Central Saanich, which includes the municipal parks, both First Nations land reserves and even a high school. As a result, opponents of the plan estimate 450 hectares within Central Saanich’s ALR to be unfarmable and are urging a review. The CRD report also contains a number of surprises, saying farmland can be used for hunting and swimming, 50 per cent of farmland in the region is unproductive and Central Saanich spends $64,600 on its 18-acre field at Island View. Critics say these statements are incorrect, although according to the CRD, the consultants stand by their report.

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Generally, farmers seem to be aligned with the CRD’s goal to stimulate agriculture and provide food security, but the disputed information and the aim to set up new farmers has led to calls from some quarters for alternative ideas, such as a farm voucher program.

When contacted, the CRD said nothing had been decided and they were committed to a process of consultation before final recommendations are made. The municipalities are free to opt in or out, with the related costs, of any part of the proposals.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

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