The staggeringly high price of farmland in the Fraser Valley is putting pressure on farmers and is “ruinous” to agriculture.
That’s according to Chilliwack farmer and University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) associate professor Tom Baumann.
“Agriculture land is vanishing in the Fraser Valley at an alarming rate,” Baumann said, responding to questions about the annual report on farmland values published by Farm Credit Canada (FCC) this week.
“Roads, buildings, industrial areas, all good for the economy, are swallowing large tracts, and so do pipelines ([because of] restrictions on use on top and beside), with berries, greenhouses, including cannabis, animal husbandry taking more and more land.”
The FCC report noted that overall in British Columbia farmland values went up 2.7 per cent in 2017 compared to 8.4 per cent in Canada.
But on the south coast, the area including the Fraser Valley encapsulating all of the Lower Mainland up to Whistler, the average price per acre in 2017 was $89,314, up 13.9 per cent over 2016.
That’s more than five times more expensive than the average price in the costliest region in any province outside of B.C.
In Chilliwack, Baumann says where you once could get a deal for $50,000 an acre now it’s a minimum of $80,000. In Abbotsford prices are even higher, often over $100,000.
As for even closer to Metro Vancouver?
“Langley, Delta, Richmond, we don’t even talk about it anymore.”
The FCC report noted there were a fairly low number of farmland sales due, of course, to very few coming to market. And what there is for sale gets snapped up by already large operators looking to expand or investors looking to buy and sit on land.
All this means that young farmers have little chance to get into the business, without taking over a family operation.
“There is no ‘open’ farmland,” Baumann says, “so you can’t go to the MLS listings and just pick yourself a nice tract of land and expand your business. Every time someone expands, someone else gets squeezed out. Small holdings such a hobby farms take another small portion that is not available for producers. All this conspires for young people and new farmers of all ages being priced out of the market.”
Fraser Valley agriculture land is in short supply and, as prices go up, so too do lease prices in the tight market.
To compare across Canada, the highest priced land in Ontario is in the south-west at $16,819 per acre. Quebec’s Montérégie is $15,098. Southern Alberta is at $5,461 per acre close to the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia at $5,419. Manitoba’s Central Plains-Pembina Valley is $4,770, but the cheapest goes to West Central Saskatchewan at $1,728 per acre, the costliest in that province.
Only one region in Canada is higher than B.C.’s south coast and that’s the Okanagan at $91,978 per acre, up 5.7 per cent.
All this is good news for those sitting on land or selling land, but Baumann says sometimes “progress” is not progress.
“From agriculture perspective it is ruinous. For food security, we are all losing,” he said.