The province's two general farm organizations are taking decidedly different approaches when it comes to participating in the land legislation review being launched by the province.
While both the executive director of the PEI Federation of Agriculture and the district director of the National Farmers Union view the review of the Lands Protection Act and Planning Act as a major issue, they plan on having much different levels of involvement.
Robert Godfrey said the federation has formed a land committee and has surveyed its membership to help determine the priority issues that should be addressed. They have also met with Agriculture and Land Minister Bloyce Thompson and departmental officials to discuss the format and timelines the process will follow.
The federation executive director said he was pleased the two co-chairs of the Land Matters Advisory Committee that will carry out the consultations have a strong knowledge of agriculture. Jim Bradley is the retired president of ADL while Lori Robinson is
farm manager at Eric C Robinson Inc.
Godfrey said several members of the land committee have applied through Engage PEI to be members of the advisory group. The executive director explained "we feel it is vital the federation be represented directly." He added the federation is now in the process of preparing a brief to present to the committee.
Meanwhile, Doug Campbell said the National Farmers Union also discussed the possibility of having members apply for a seat at the committee table but decided against it. The district director explained "if you are part of the process, that gives the impression you agree with all of the committee's recommendations and that may not necessarily be the case."
He said the NFU will be presenting a brief to the advisory committee, urging them to recommend both the spirit and intent of the 1982 act are followed in any changes that are introduced. The organization has long argued large corporations have been able to circumvent the spirit of the legislation that prohibits individuals from owning more than 1,000 acres of land and places a 3,000 acre limit on corporations.
Campbell said his group has never challenged the legality of these transactions but argues they are "definitely in violation of what the act was intended to do." The district director said he wants to know what the government means by saying the act is being modernized.
"We have had report after report and they have all basically said the same thing that the limits should be enforced," the district director said. "Are they going to keep doing this process until they get the answers they want?"
Godfrey said it is long past time the Lands Protection Act underwent an extensive review, noting "things are very different now than they were in 1982." In fact, he would like to see the committee recommend a mandatory review of the legislation every decade.
The executive director said the federation would like to see agricultural land designated as resource land under the Planning Act. He explained today's longer crop rotations require more land and development across the province generally is driving up the price of land.
"We realize municipalities are going to grow and we want that as a province but we have to make sure that development doesn't happen to the point where agriculture is no longer sustainable," he said.
While PEI doesn't have natural resources like oil or minerals that provide revenue, "we do have 575,000 acres of farmland that is the key economic generator for the province and "we have to ensure that is protected."
While Campbell agrees access to farmland has to be protected for both current and future generations, he disagrees with the notion that "bigger is better" when it comes to the size of farms.
"I have yet to see any studies that show bigger farms are more profitable," he said.
The hearings by the Advisory Committee will be the first step in a five part process that will eventually lead to what the agriculture and lands minister is calling Lands Protection Act 2.0.