Field

Agricultural Land Discussion Paper

Agricultural land is land that is managed for farm use.  These uses include pasture land, crop land, horticultural land, maple groves, Christmas tree, orchards and other maintained land.  Ensuring availability of agricultural land allows for future generations to farm.

The government bodies that oversee land in Nova Scotia is cross jurisdictional.  Planning and land use by-laws are developed at the municipal level while the province dictates what must be considered during the planning process.  Adding more depth to the governance, in Nova Scotia there are 54 municipal governments in Nova Scotia – each having their own plan, if a plan even exists for that municipality, and own set of by-laws.

According to the 2016 Farmland Values report released by Farm Credit Canada, farmland values continue to rise across Nova Scotia.  There are varying explanations for the increases including expanding farm growth and development.  The development value is significantly greater than the agriculture value of the land.  When farmland is located in prime development areas, for example Kings County, land owners often have to consider the choice that makes the most financial sense for their business and personal needs when they go to sell.

According to the “Preservation of Agricultural Land” report by the Agriculture Land Review Committee, Nova Scotia has a little over 29% (1.57 million hectares) if its land classed as Agriculture.  Of these 1.57 million hectares, 1.82 thousand hectares was being farmed in 2006.  The report indicated that agriculture land abandonment, urban sprawl/development, soil fertility and impact of rising water on dykeland are all issues of concern that must be addressed.  Loss of land to rising water levels and to development is land that will never be returned to agriculture.  Statistics are unavailable on how much of the agriculture classed soils are now unavailable to future generations for farming due to development and rising water levels.

Land ownership can become burdensome.  Farmers collectively own 30% of the privately owned land in Nova Scotia.  With owning this vast amount of land comes legal liability and potential for damage.  Regulations do not always protect a landowner if a trespasser is injured on their land at the cause of the trespasser and incidents have occurred where seeded fields were damaged to the point that reseeding was necessary.  Cost of migration per parcel can be significant, particularly if multiple PIDs are required to be migrated.  Property valuation can cause undue hardships.  Exemption of agricultural land from property tax is written in legislation, however, there is sometimes confusion around what constitutes as agricultural land when Property Valuation Services makes updates to records.

There have been attempts made to address the loss of agricultural land.  Land bank programs, programs for the development of agricultural land, and an attempt at protecting a specified amount of agricultural land through an EGSPA goal have all proven to have their challenges.  Since the Community Easements Act came into place in Nova Scotia, the Annapolis Valley Farmland Trust has been an approved body to place easements on agricultural land.  Doing so removes the development rights from the land.  There are two holdbacks when recruit: a) the legal costs to place an easement are significant (~$15,000-$20,000) and b) there isn’t an incentive for the farmer to remove developments from their land.

During a meeting with the Nova Scotia Federation of Agriculture, the NSDA expressed concern over additional land development funding.  Rationale for this concern was that there was funding put in place in the 1990’s for the development of agricultural land and that there was quite a bit (though immeasurable) of agricultural land going out of production for one reason or another.

In the 1970s, the Nova Scotia Farm Loan Board had a land banking program where they would purchase farm land and lease to farmers at a lower rate than the exorbitant high rates of the time.  Over time, as rates dropped, leasing land wasn’t as cost effective as purchasing.

 

Recommendations:

  • The Government of Nova Scotia update the land inventory. This land inventory must include: active agricultural land, CLI classed soils, a comparative analysis to past studies to quantify the amount of agricultural land lost to development and lost to non-succession.
  • Following the proposed land inventory develop and action a strategy that will put overgrown land back into production.
  • Land that is actively farmed should remain taxed at 0%. Agriculture land that is taken out of production and no longer used for agriculture should be taxed at a resource rate.
  • The Statement of Provincial Interest should be eliminated and a land use policy developed to ensure that a quantity of land is planned sufficient enough for the agriculture industry in the respective municipality to grow. A recommended quantity, considering the 50% increase in exports from the Advisory Council on Economic Growth, would be 50% more land than what is currently being farmed the municipality.
  • Utilize the legal ability of the AVFLT to protect agricultural land for future generations. Write into the Ecological Goals and Sustainable Prosperities Act a goal to protect 5,000 acres within the 5 year review of the Act. Government can set an example for this protection by placing an easement on all community pastures and land owned by the province used by the Dal Agriculture Campus.
  • Develop a provincial land bank program. A land bank must compensate farmers for removing development rights from their farm land.  The development rights will be removed through an easement process.  The funds for this one time compensation to the land owner would be generated by stakeholders including but not limited lending institutions, Government of Nova Scotia and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
  • An interdepartmental approach to develop a plan for all land in Nova Scotia.
  • The Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture fund a study on the agricultural land inventory in Nova Scotia.