P.E.I. could have land bank by fall

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Island farmers who are looking to get out of the business but want to see their land kept up for agricultural use may soon have a new option as the province moves closer to starting a land bank.

Ornery weather has created a two- to three-week delay in spring planting this year and farmers were eager this week to finally get a chance to prepare the soil. First out of the gate are growers in the banana belt of P.E.I. around Lower Newtown and Kinross near Belfast. Other regions may not begin planting until next week.

In an interview with The Guardian, Finance Minister Wes Sheridan said a group of deputy ministers is working on the issue in order to figure out the benefits without getting into the potential pitfalls of a plan of that size.

“We’ve laid out the parameters under which we’d like the plan to look like but at this point hopefully for the fall we’ll have something in place that would provide this type of entry.”

The idea of a land bank to help retiring farmers transition out of the industry and help new farmers move into it is nothing new.

P.E.I. had a land development corporation in the 1970s and 1980s.

A new land bank was also part of the Liberal election platform in 2011 and more recently Lands Protection Act commissioner Horace Carver recommended it in a report he released in November.

A potential land bank could see retiring farmers sell their holding which would then be sold or leased to other farmers in order to keep it in agricultural production.

Sheridan said in developing a new plan, the government wanted to look at something similar to the old land development corporation.

As for why it has taken so long to get the land bank in place, Sheridan said it’s a complicated, costly endeavour and the government needs to ensure everyone will be treated fairly.

“It’s not a real simple lending program.”

Sheridan said the government is looking at different options for how the land could be moved between one farmer and another while still considering the costs for the province.

“I don’t think the province wants to own these assets and that’s where we have to be very careful that we don’t get ourselves into that kind of a situation.”

How many acres would be on the market at one time and if there will be any cost to taxpayers is still unclear because the parameters haven’t been set yet, Sheridan said.

“That’s the type of thing we have to look at is just to try to decide what it is we’re trying to accomplish and what is the best way to do it.”

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