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B.C. housing costs could threaten food security, study finds

A newly sold property is pictured in a Vancouver neighbourhood on Sept. 9, 2014.

Julie Gordon/REUTERS

Double-digit leaps in home prices across the Vancouver region could force farmers off the land and threaten local food security, a report from Vancity credit union suggests.

Farmland prices, including in the rich and productive soils of the Fraser River delta, now range from $150,000 to $350,000 per acre for parcels less than five acres, the study said.

Statistics from agricultural lender Farm Credit Canada show land prices above $80,000 per acre can make farming unsustainable.

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"The prices are, at the very core, threatening the viability of farming," said report author Brent Mansfield, director of the BC Food Systems Network.

"The cost of farmland, and being able to access that, whether that is for a new farmer with limited access to capital or a farmer who wants to expand their business ... is actually beyond the farm income potential," he said.

The report said non-farmers control large tracts of actively farmed land within the Agricultural Land Reserve and lease it to farmers.

As much as 35 per cent of that land is owned by businesses, many described as holding companies with terms such as holding, investment, estate, property, land or development in their name, Mansfield said.

That raises concerns that it is being purchased on speculation for future estate homes, development or other non-agricultural use, Mansfield said.

"A robust local food system requires protecting agricultural land and ensuring it's actively farmed. Speculation and other pressures need to be addressed."

The public must call on governments to ensure current policies protecting the Agricultural Land Reserve are being implemented and new policies are being put into place, he said.

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Options include tightening loopholes that allow land owners to receive farm-class status and lower tax rates while producing only a small amount of food, or strengthening bylaws related to the size of houses on agricultural land.

Vancity's report comes as a Royal LePage survey revealed the year-over-year price for a home in Greater Vancouver vaulted more than 20 per cent in the first three months of 2016.

The Royal LePage study showed strong growth extended eastward into Langley in the first quarter of 2016 as prospective buyers turned to comparatively lower priced real estate compared to other regions in Greater Vancouver.

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