Stop This Attack on Island Farmland

GUEST OPINION BY EDITH LING

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In response to David Weale’s opinion article in The Guardian Nov. 29, Alan Holman, in the Dec. 1, issue of the newspaper, expressed his opinion that farmers and many Islanders are not concerned about who owns the land despite the takeover of Island farm land by large corporations, including the Irving empire and the sale of precious farm land to Asian interests (GEBIS, etc.).

One of the main purposes of this act is to preserve Island farmland for farm families and to prevent the accumulation of farm land in the hands of large industrial corporations, i.e. the Irvings. Now, they and other large corporations have found loopholes in the act all with the apparent blessing of the provincial government.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Holman did not attend the meeting of the Select Standing Committee on Communities, Land and the Environment Nov. 1, 2018 and witness the snow job presented by Robert Irving. Mr. Holman would have easily seen a very smooth presentation in which Irving asked that the land limits under the LPA be increased for potato producers.

Mr. Irving also subtly alluded to the fact that more high capacity wells are needed for irrigation purposes. The purpose of his appearing before the committee was to disclose his land holdings in this province. He did not provide this information, and not one committee member asked that question before the meeting was quickly brought to a close.

Mr. Irving applauded the P.E.I. Crop Rotation Act but later in the meeting it was revealed that many of his 83 process contract growers follow a two-year rotation rather than the three-year rotation suggested in the Act. Such action is resulting in the destruction of organic matter in Island soils which decreases the water-holding ability of the soil. Does Mr. Irving care? No, all he is interested in is higher yields per acre from the soil which is already over-taxed. It is clear that Irving wants our land and our water and his corporation is already making recommendations to government on what the regulations under the Water Act should look like.

Mr. Irving has been complaining about the lack of potatoes available for his plant. He might have sufficient potatoes if he had not dropped the contracts of a considerable number of growers several years ago. He has the current contract growers right where he wants them – buy every input, i.e. fertilizer, chemicals, etc. from the company store. Most contract growers would not dare to speak out about the bondage under which they exist for fear of losing their contract.

His contract price to growers is the lowest possible. Growers then are docked up to 20 per cent on every load delivered. All this results in many growers being kept in difficult financial situations. One can be assured that increased yields per acre will not result in better income for the farm families producing potatoes for the plant.

Mr. Weale has issued a clarion call for Islanders to wake up. We need to hear this call and act accordingly. If we don’t, it will be almost impossible for young farmers to obtain farm land; it will be very difficult for existing farmers to expand within the land limits, and the fabric of our rural communities will be further torn apart. Farmers represent a very small percentage of voters on election day so we need the general public to come on board and stop this attack on our Island farm land.

Edith Ling lives in North Winsloe and is women’s district director with the National Farmers Union

Understanding the Spirit of the Lands Protection Act

 

GUEST OPINION BY DOUGLAS CAMPBELL – JUNE 28, 2018

The National Farmers Union (NFU) notices and welcomes the community’s new expressions of interest about the Lands Protection Act. Islanders know the painful history of the land and how easily it can be taken from the people. Now we are in a new era in how land transactions take place. In 2018, the style of take-overs is more hidden than they were in other times. However, on the community level, people know who is taking control of vast acreages. What is not clear to the Island population is why the Lands Protection Act seems to be powerless to stop the rapid land grab so obvious in the rural community.

The NFU has not said that corporations and individuals are breaking the letter of the law set out in the Lands Protection Act. We are saying that there is an alarming ignorance on the part of policy makers and other Island residents about the spirit of the Act.

In 1982, then-Premier Angus MacLean made it clear that the spirit/intent of the act was to keep farm land in the control of Island farm families and to keep all lands in control of Islanders. Control of the land was Premier MacLean’s over-arching theme. Part of this was that individuals and corporations must be prohibited from amassing large land holding. The Act also put tight restrictions on non-resident purchases of land. There was no intention to discourage new people from becoming resident owners. It was meant to prevent absentee control of the land.

Our consultations with influential people, associates of Premier MacLean, tell the NFU that limiting land holding in the Act was an instrument of keeping Island land in specific Island hands. The restriction to 1,000 acres for individuals would prevent excessive concentration. It meant that more people, rather than fewer, would actually control the land. The 3,000-acre limit for corporations, in the vision of Premier MacLean, was meant as a business convenience for farm families.

The intent was that three members of a family group, e.g. a parent and two adult children could form a corporation. In this way, the original spirit of the Lands Protection Act was to keep farm land at the service of family farming model. It was never intended that the corporation limit would be manipulated to serve the interests of industrial agriculture. In fact, a five-acre limit was placed on industrial corporations (including processors).

So, to accept the spirit of the Lands Protection Act, in fact, requires accepting the original goals of keeping farm land in family farming. What a desecration to see the corporation allowance being manipulated for massive takeovers of farm land. Contrary to the spirit of the Act, the goal of this current takeover is to enlarge the profits of the powerful corporations, and to firmly establish the industrial farming model as the predominant agricultural structure.

Some people, including policy makers, seem to be easily confused about what a family farm is. The NFU has heard members of large corporations, controlling immense tracts of land in P.E.I., saying, “we are a family involved in farming, so we are a ‘family farm.” That does not make their operation a family farm. When we speak of family farms, we are not talking of industrial corporations with huge land spreads.

goal of industrial farming is to amass profit for the corporation, to increase its capital holdings. The family farm on the other hand is a unit of food production where the major production decisions are made by the farm family. The farm is small enough ideally to make production decisions and to allow it to be worked mainly by the family, of course with outside labour for the busy seasons. Central concerns are making a living for the farm family and caring for the land, air and water.

With new awareness in the community about land, and about the Lands Protection Act, the NFU urges Islanders to speak out. Those in power interpret silence as consent. The NFU wants to hear loud protests about the weakening of the Act and the failure of governments to protect our land for current and future generations.

– Douglas Campbell, dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, District Director of the National Farmers Union

PEI Lands Protection Act: Spirit and Letter

Saturday, March 3rd, 1-4 pm

Milton Community Hall

Cooper Institute’s annual Social Justice Symposium in honour of Father Andrew Macdonald aims to clarify the need for legislation to faithfully reflect the intent and purpose (the spirit) of an act in the form of enforceable laws (the letter). Recent spirit/letter work in the formation of the newly passed PEI Water Act will provide lessons to understand better what is happening to the PEI Lands Protection Act (LPA).

The interactive event will begin with a panel discussing the spirit and the letter of the Lands Protection Act, the history of PEI voices for the protection of land; how and why the Act is often misinterpreted; and the loopholes in the Act. Panellists are: Marie-Ann Bowman with Reg Phelan, Douglas Campbell, and Edith Ling. Event participants in discussion groups will share what they recognize as positive action to enhance the LPA role as protector of the land and what action Islanders can take to require government to strengthen the Act.

The symposium is held in memory of Father Andrew Macdonald, a founder of Cooper Institute and composer of the song “No! No! Don’t Sell PEI”. Tony Reddin will lead a rendition of that song. Internationally-acclaimed singer/song writer, Teresa Doyle will perform her own songs related to land protection.

There is no entry fee. Subsidies are available on request for travel and child/elder care. Refreshments will be served.

All land lovers are welcome. Register here.

Respecting the Spirit and Intent of the Lands Protection Act

Letter to the Editor by Doug Campbell, published in the Charlottetown Guardian

October 23, 2017

The National Farmers Union (NFU) is alarmed by the rate at which farmland is being transferred to large corporate interests. Islanders, especially those in rural communities, know that all around them, land is being transferred generally in non-transparent transactions. What is involved is frequent and widespread under-the radar transfers of large quantities of land to interlocked corporations and to foreign investors. Without much apparent concern on the part of Government, PEI is now a victim of the well-known global land grab.

The PEI Lands Protection Act is the envy of many people in other jurisdictions. However, the NFU has known since the early 80’s that limits on acreage ownership is an important aspect of the Act, if the loopholes regarding these limits were either closed or closely monitored. However from the very beginning the NFU has made a distinction between the letter of the law and its spirit and intent. Premier Angus MacLean, who is the politician credited with proposing the Lands Protection Act was clear that the protection of the land is more than legal ownership. It was understood with the passing of the Act that land protection would require watching over who control land and how they do that. Continue reading

Spirit of Lands Protection Act is Being Violated

By Douglas Campbell, Director, NFU District One, Region One

The National Farmers Union, reflecting the concerns of many Islanders, is asking the P.E.I. government to investigate the corporate interests which are taking ownership of immense acreages of farm land.

The NFU presumes that the
land takeovers to date do not violate the letter of the law. It is however clear the spirit of the Lands Protection Act is being seriously violated. The spirit of the Act was, and is, the prevention of massive land takeovers by any entity, corporate or individual, and by out-of-province interests. Only those wearing blinders would argue that land is currently protected from these take overs.

By the letter of the law, from the beginning, no corporation could acquire ownership of more than 3,000 acres and individuals 1000 acres. With some tactics, those limits really have been changed. Given that non-arable land is excluded from the calculations of acreage allowed, the current definition of non-arable land favours an increase of as much as 1,200 acres for a corporation and 400 acres for an individual.

Non-arable land is that on which a temporary agricultural crop was not planted at any time in the immediately preceding four years. Ironically this could include blueberry and orchard lands. Considering the non-arable land factor, we could have a new set of land holding limits as 4,200 acres for a corporation and 1,400 acres for an individual.

Worse than the above, the most flagrant violation of the spirit of the act is the accumulation of land in the hands of single corporate entities. This is very difficult to bring to the light of day because the land is held in the names of different corporations presumably keeping the law by ensuring that no board member owns more that five per cent shares in any other land holding corporation with the maximum allowable acreage.

What the NFU, and the rest of the community, knows is the names of those who are the front people, but the questions are: What is the origin of the money?  Who are the real investors? Besides the longtime locally grown, grasping corporations, we now have on the stage Dutch (Netherlandic), Chinese, and Taiwanese entities. In other words, Dutch, Chinese and Taiwanese money.

As in most parts of the world, P.E.I. is experiencing the plague of land grabbing. The lesson learned is that capitalists worldwide view land as a solid investment, promising future growth in their investment capital. Land is bought up everywhere for the expectation of an incredible increase in value over the years.

At the heart of all land grabbing is a source of investment capital. If the government is serious about its role in protecting P.E.I. land, there must be an investigation of who are the real investors.

Most Islanders know our land history: that for 100 years, our land was in the hands of absentee British land lords. Island farmers held a courageous and painful struggle to win back the land.

To quote the song, “Don’t sell PEI” by Father Andrew Macdonald: “No, No don’t sell P.E.I.; it’s our homeland, our heritage and we want to make it free . . . Shall we return to serfdom now or halt the invading pack?”

– Douglas Campbell, a dairy farmer in Southwest Lot 16, is District Director of the National Farmers Union.