Rising cost of Metro Vancouver farmland drives up local food prices, says report

Buyers of ‘estate homes’ are beating out prospective farmers for the purchase of prime agricultural land close to urban centres

The rising price of agricultural land in Metro Vancouver is making farming less viable and increasing the cost of food, says the author of a new report commissioned by Vancity Credit Union.

“We can be really interested in local food, we can shop at a farmer’s market, but we actually need to care about the land use decisions that are made in our municipality,” says Brent Mansfield, director of the BC Food Systems Network. “We need to protect the farmland we have and we need to do all we can to make sure that it’s being actively farmed.”

Real estate speculation and development of large homes, he says, are likely causes of the ramping prices. The report, co-authored by Mansfield and several researchers from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, found that one-third of the actively farmed land in Metro Vancouver is owned by non-farmers and leased to farmers. Of those owners, many could be classified as holding companies, which raises the possibility that the land is being held for real estate development. Prospective farmers, the report notes, are in competition for prime agricultural land close to urban centres with developers and buyers of estate homes seeking to avoid the high cost of residential land.

Currently, farmland prices in Metro Vancouver range from $150,000 to $350,000 per acre for small parcels (less than five acres) and from $50,000 to $80,000 per acre for parcels more than 40 acres. The financial viability of many farm businesses, the report states, becomes difficult when land prices reach $80,000 per acre. New or established farmers who purchase land in Metro Vancouver at current prices and who carry a mortgage face production costs that would result in food price increases of 10 to 70 per cent if they were passed on to consumers.

Between January 2015 and January 2016, price increases of 26.2 per cent for fresh vegetables and nine per cent for fresh fruit were documented in British Columbia. These rising costs, says Mansfield, were largely due to the drought in California and the low value of the loonie. While the local food system could act as a buffer against the volatility of global prices, it is currently threatened by the high price of farmland. “The increasing price of food I would say is driven by the fact that in B.C. we are very reliant on global markets. We need to be much more concerned about growing more food closer to home.”

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