The Young Agrarians have been successful in implementing 16 matches between landowners and new farmers, involving 44 acres, in the Cowichan Valley in the past three years.
A delegation from the Young Agrarians, a group whose main focus is to facilitate long-term lease agreements between landowners and new farmers ready to start farms through a land-matching program, told the Cowichan Valley Regional District’s regional services committee at its meeting on May 26 that so many matches in the Valley is a “great number” compared to the matches that have been made so far in other parts of the province and country.
“We would not have been able to get this far without stakeholders like the CVRD who are investing in the future succession of farmland to grow-local food systems,” said Sara Dent, executive director of the Young Agrarians, who appeared at the Zoom meeting with Azja Jones Martin, the organization’s land matcher for Vancouver Island.
With the future of farming hanging in the balance due to the high cost of real estate, the Young Agrarians formed as a national group and began work in the Cowichan Valley in 2018, in a partnership between the FarmFolk CityFolk Society, Young Agrarians, Ministry of Agriculture, the CVRD and the Cowichan Green Community Society, to help ensure new farmers in the Valley have access to land.
Since then, Martin has been working in the Valley to screen farmland opportunities and people ready to start farm businesses, facilitate matches and develop legal contracts between the parties.
Dent said that for new and young farmers, technical assistance to access land is fast becoming an essential service. She said 50 per cent of new farm operators 35 years old and younger currently lease land.
“This trend will continue as market values for farmland continue to increase year-to-year and out-price new farmers from land acquisition,” Dent said.
“To ensure the future resiliency of farmable land, and support the next generation to farm-stable, well-developed agreements are key.”
Ian Morrison, the CVRD’s director for Cowichan Lake South/Skutz Falls, said he knows lots of aging business owners in the area who can’t find people to buy their businesses, so they end up shutting them down.
“I think the same thing is happening to farmers in the Valley because the cost of land has become so expensive,” Morrison said.
Dent said if the Young Agrarians had solutions for all farms ready to be turned over, either through lease or ownership, to new owners and operators, “it would be amazing”.
“In France, there is a government agency that acquires farms that are ready to be sold and hold them until they can be sold back to farmers, and France also has several other agencies that work with new farmers to form farm co-ops with these holdings,” she said.
“The cost of land and food production in B.C. far exceeds what new farmers can earn on the land. So there are issues around succession planning because the land base is so expensive, and it’s an issue that would take a lot of money to resolve.”