Farmers union wants crackdown on land ownership rules

The National Farmers Union is calling on the province to strengthen its land ownership rules.

NFU wants Lands Protection Act strengthened and the provincial cabinet to be tougher with land sales

The National Farmer's Union wants the province to strengthen its land ownership rules. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling on the province to strengthen its land ownership rules. 

The union appeared before a government standing committee Thursday to present its concerns that corporations control too much land on P.E.I. 

A change to the Lands Protection Act in January 2015 allows corporations to own 607 more hectares than in the past, if that land is leased out.

That puts the possible corporate level of ownership at 2,307 hectares, including arable, non-arable and leased land.

Increased land prices hurting farmers

Union representatives told the standing committee Thursday that the province's Lands Protection Act is supposed to stop corporations and foreign investors taking ownership and control of too much Island land.

But NFU district director Doug Campbell said the current rules aren't doing enough to stop land prices rising — and that's hurting Island farmers. 

"We're hearing it more all the time," he said. "It's new farmers trying to enter into the industry, and farmers looking to expand, that land prices are being driven up by speculation to the point where you can't produce a crop that will pay it back."

NFU wants better land protection

Now the NFU wants the Lands Protection Act strengthened and is calling on the provincial cabinet to be tougher when approving or rejecting land sales. 

Doug Campbell, the District Director for the National Farmer's Union, says increased corporate land ownership is hurting farmers. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

"The political will to do it has to come from the politicians to be able to see where the spirit and intent of the act is being abused," Campbell said.

'We all have concerns'

Committee members from both sides of the floor agreed it is an issue that needs addressing. 

"We all have concerns. The MLAs in the areas are asking the questions as well. So we'll continue to monitor that situation," said Liberal Cabinet Minister Heath MacDonald. 

PC MLA Sidney MacEwen questioned when cabinet would do something to help farmers.

At the meeting, the union singled out Cavendish Farms, Vanco Farms and the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) as groups it worries are controlling too much land.

The standing committee voted to invite those groups to appear before it to answer questions about how much land they do own and control, and how they went about acquiring it. 

CBC contacted the three groups mentioned at the meeting. GEBIS told CBC it has applied for and been approved for all land it owns on P.E.I. Vanco Farms declined to comment. Cavendish Farms had not responded at the time of publishing.

With files from Steve Bruce