While both of the province's general farm organizations are happy the Dennis King government is proceeding with a land bank, they have differing opinions about how much money is being put forward,
Shortly after the current administration took office in June, Kevin J. Arsenault was contracted to compile on the report on the feasibility of developing a land banking system that would allow young farmers more opportunity to purchase land to enter the industry. Arsenault, who is a long time National Farmers Union member and third place finisher in the Progressive Conservative leadership race earlier this year, has submitted his report to Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Minister Steven Myers but it has yet to be made public.
However, the capital budget tabled during the fall legislature session does contain $365,000 for land purchases. The money is allocated under Myer's department because it is responsible for buying and selling all government property including land.
While he concedes the budget won't purchase much land, Robert Godfrey commends the King administration for its slow and responsible approach. The executive director of the PEI Federation of Agriculture noted it is important to do the research on the issue and learn from the successes and setbacks in other provinces
"It is just a start and we look forward to watching it grow in the future," he said.
Both the Federation and the National Farmers Union are on record as supporting the idea of a land bank. However, the small allocation leads Edith Ling to question whether the government is serious about addressing the issue.
Given that farmland prices currently average around $5,000 an acre, the women's district director of the NFU said the budget would allow for the purchase of approximately 70 acres. Ling added "that is really not going to make much of an impact."
Both organizations maintain the establishment of the land bank has to be taken in context with the other major issue being tackled when it comes to farmland -- the revamp of the Lands Protection Act and Business Corporation Act in the wake of the acquisition of 2,200 acres of farmland in the Summerside-Bedeque area by Rebecca Irving.
The previous Liberal government turned down the sale of the land to three companies with ties to the Irving family on the day the writ was issued for the April 23 election, based on the recommendation of the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission. This time around, Rebecca Irving purchased the company that owned the land rather than the property so IRAC was not involved. The company maintains the purchase is in compliance with changes to the Business Corporation Act passed last year by the Wade MacLauchlan government.
In early November, Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson announced plans to hold public consultations next spring on changes to both acts. The amended acts are expected to be introduced during the current session of the legislature.
Godfrey said his organization recently held a meeting with Thompson and both the review of the two acts and the establishment of the land bank were hot topics of discussion. The federation executive director feels it is imperative the farming community be involved in the upcoming consultations.
"Farmers are major stakeholders of the land and we need to be there." he said.
Ling agrees but said she is frustrated with the lack of detail so far about what the government has in mind. She added "the NFU is calling for meaningful consultations and we plan to be involved but so far the silence from this government on the Lands Protection Act is deafening."
If the province is serious about making sure corporations honour not only the letter of the law but the spirit of the Lands Protection Act, Ling suggests any land declared over the 3000 acre corporate limit should be put into the land bank. Since she lives in the premier's Brackley-Hunter River constituency, she had an opportunity to voice the idea directly to the premier when he came to her door during the campaign.