December 22, 2022

Land Access Strategies for New Farmers in Alberta

By the Young Agrarians

Farming in Alberta is facing a significant renewal crisis. With the average age of farming increasing every year and fewer and fewer farm children returning to the farm, it is no wonder that only 1 in 12 farms in Canada has a written succession plan. Many of the older farmers that we speak to through the Young Agrarians (YA) network don’t have a family member who wants to take over. Many older farmers are left wondering what to do.

While Food Secure Canada has reported that over 74% of farmers say they will sell their land in the next 10 years, many farmers who have poured years of sweat, money, and emotion into their farm don’t want to just put it up sale. “If only I could find a young person or couple to come take it over,” is something we often hear at YA.

From the aspiring farmer’s perspective, they see big hurdles in starting their own farm. Knowledge, access to capital, and land access are their biggest barriers. They see land prices going up year after year. Farmland in Alberta went up 26.5% (in 2016 constant dollars) from 2011 to 2016. Unsurprisingly, since the mid 90’s the number of young farmers in our province has decreased.

Who will be the next generation of farmers on the land? YA has been working to tackle just that. Since 2015, YA has been growing a new network of aspiring farmers including first-generation farmers that don’t come from a farming background. These new farmers are motivated to farm because they want to do better for the planet, serve their community and contribute to thriving local economies. Through funding from the Alberta Real Estate Foundation, YA has begun to break down some of the barriers and tackle matching land owners looking for new farmers with land seekers looking for land and mentorship.

Through this project, YA spoke to landowners and land seekers to hear their stories.

As farms are transitioning from one generation to the next, one of the things YA heard was that the biggest challenge is just getting the conversation started either with family or with potential out-of-family connections. The Starting the Conversation Toolkit helps farmers to navigate these conversations and offers different points of entry to get them going. Stepping into this land access work, YA found that farmers are calling for more support. There is a need for us to put our minds together to creatively approach the problem of farm renewal. Examples of innovative arrangements to solve this problem are happening around the country and the world. The B.C. Land Matching Program, modeled after L’Arterre in Quebec, offers a 3rd party service that matches landowners and land seekers, supports them through the technical aspects, and refers them to land experts like real estate agents, accountants, and lawyers. So far they have made 73 matches across B.C.

On behalf of all the farmers we worked with, we thank the Alberta Real Estate Foundation for making the investment to get this important work started and we look forward to continuing the conversation and finding creative solutions to the challenge ahead.

This project was funded in 2018 through the Foundation’s Grant Program and took place between 2018 and 2020. We’re proud to support this work that supports sustainable land use planning and management, in turn benefitting the real estate industry and Albertans.

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