New agriculture land to be offered longer, 20-year lease: AVA

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore says the longer lease period will give farms here more certainty and for them to invest in highly productive technologies.
Channel NewsAsia 16 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) will be offering new agriculture land on 20-year leases instead of the previously announced 10-year blocks, it announced on Thursday (Jun 16).

In a news release, AVA said the policy change is a result of engagement and consultation with farms.

"Farmers have given us feedback that investing in technology and automation requires a longer pay back period. The longer 20-year lease tenure will provide more certainty to farms and enable them to invest in intensive, highly productive technologies that operate on minimal manpower," said AVA CEO Tan Poh Hong.

Minister of State for National Development Koh Poh Koon, who visited Seng Choon Farm on Thursday, said: "There's always room for more negotiations, but 20 years I think is a reasonable time frame for them to at least have a certain longevity in planning for their capital investment.

"And of course, in this kind of discussion, it's an ongoing discussion. When it comes to near the end of the lease, we can discuss and see how best we can support them, either to transit to new technology or to further extend the lease."

Additionally, 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang which are affected by redevelopment plans with tenures expiring in 2017 will have their tenures extended until the end of 2019, AVA said.

This comes after the Government said in 2014 that the land the farms occupied would be needed for redevelopment, and that new farm sites would be available for tender at the end of 2015.

"Due to extensive land preparation works needed at the new sites, the 1st tranche of land sales will be launched from early 2017. To cater for sufficient transition time, the leases of the affected farms will be extended to end of 2019 instead," AVA said.

Added Dr Koh: "Farming is one way in which we can ensure our food security. While we import most of our food from overseas, there is always going to be the risk of disruption to our food supply. Having some degree of farming capability locally will ensure that we have the means to actually cope with sudden supply disruptions and ensure that prices of food are kept at an affordable level."

"IT'S GOOD NEWS"

Earlier this year, some farmers told Channel NewsAsia that the 10-year lease for new sites was a cause for concern.

Following Thursday's announcement, Ms Chai Sheau Shi of Fire Flies Health Farm, which grows organic vegetables, said the tenure extension to 2019 is "good news". However, looking ahead, she is cautious about rent and the challenges that come with farming.

As for the longer 20-year lease, Ms Chai said more research needs to be conducted so farmers will be able to better contend with a different era of agriculture.

"Now, all over the world, the weather is crazy. Climate change is one thing - what's the support (available)?" she told Channel NewsAsia. "How much support do we have between different ministries and institutions?"

Ms Wan added that farming serves as an educational tool. "Singaporeans in general will be able to know how food is being produced at all," she said.

Jurong Frog Farm's director Ms Chelsea Wan also welcomed the announcements, but added that there are some grey areas that need to be clarified.

"(This is) especially for my industry - since they're not food-producing farms, if we're still being shifted to the new land parcels, is it still valid for them to be there?" she asked. "We need clarity from the authorities - even though they are going to shift us to the new land parcels, will those land parcels be there to stay?"

Ms Wan noted that moving forward, local farms will need to be in line with the Government's vision and use technology to upscale their businesses.

"That's the only way to attract succession planning, for younger people to join," she said. "We'll take this challenge and try to plan things (so they are) a bit more favourable for us over the next three years."

She also said she hopes Jurong Frog Farm will be able to keep its doors open.

"It's a three-and-a-half decade-old business. There's so much more potential," she said.

- CNA/dl


New agricultural land leases to be extended to 20 years: AVA
NEO CHAI CHIN and ILIYAS JUANDA Today Online 16 Jun 16;

SINGAPORE — In a move welcomed by land farmers here, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) announced on Thursday (June 16) that new agricultural land tendered will be based on 20-year leases instead of the current 10-year blocks, to provide more certainty and enable investment in better technologies.

The 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang that have to make way for redevelopment will also have their tenures expire at the end of 2019, instead of June next year.

The first tranche of land sales for these farmers will be launched early next year, and the extension of their lease will allow for sufficient transition time, said the AVA.

The 62 farms are making way for the Ministry of Defence, which needs to replace training land used to develop Tengah New Town.

Some farmers had recently lamented the uncertainty and lack of answers from the authorities on their future, according to recent reports by Channel NewsAsia.

Quail farmer William Ho, 50, one of the affected farmers, said the announcements yesterday were “quite positive”. The extension of leases is “only fair”, and new agricultural land leases of 20 years will be of great help to farmers and investors.

The previous policy of 10-year leases with the option to extend a further 10 years was something that farmers felt very uncomfortable with because return-on-investment in farming takes longer, said Mr Ho.

He expects the relocation and rebuilding of his farm to cost S$8 million to S$10 million.

Although he is still sad to move, and expects the potential new plot of land to be less than half the size of his 2.7ha farm, Mr Ho welcomed greater discussion of issues between the private sector and the authorities.

“We are ‘alive’ again,” said Kin Yan Agrotech general manager Lam Wee Wah in response to the 20-year leases for new agricultural land.

His farm, which grows wheatgrass, pea sprouts and mushrooms, is now looking into microgreens and vegetables such as lettuce and bok choy to fully utilise its land.

The farm, which is not among the 62 affected but whose lease expires next January, has stabilised growth techniques for wheatgrass, pea sprouts and mushrooms.

Output has risen from less than 12 tonnes per year when it started in 1997, to almost 100 tonnes now, estimated Mr Lam.

AVA chief executive Tan Poh Hong said it was important to understand farmers’ challenges and concerns in order for the agriculture sector to grow.

The longer tenures will enable farmers to invest in intensive, highly productive technologies that operate on minimal manpower, she said.

Dr Koh Poh Koon, Minister of State (National Development and Trade and Industry), said details on the size and prices of plots up for bidding for the 62 affected farms will be released closer to the tender.

During a visit to Seng Choon Farm yesterday, Dr Koh said Singapore needs to raise local production to achieve greater food security for the future.

“AVA has also regularly organised sourcing trips to bring farmers to look at productive practices in different farms overseas, and help bring some of these technologies in,” he added, referring to some of the steps taken to help farmers raise their productivity.

At Seng Choon, the use of conveyor belts has helped the egg farm to reduce its reliance on manpower and raise its average output from 400,000 to 500,000 eggs daily.

Eggs that are hatched will be neatly ferried by these belts during two collection periods, in the morning and afternoon.

Inspection, grading and cleaning of eggs are all done on the belts through separate specialised machines.

A different set of belts is used to collect manure from under the chicken cages. The farm’s custom-made chicken feed is also transported automatically using conveyor belts.

The 18 chicken houses on the farm are fitted with LED lamps to ensure just the right amount of light for the chickens. Cooling and ventilation systems are fitted to keep the indoor temperature at 28 degrees Celsius for the chickens.

Mr Koh Yeow Koon, Seng Choon Farm’s managing director, said: “There are a lot of new technologies that we’ve not tried out on the farm, so we need a lot of resources to look into them, and to find out which one is the best technology that’s suitable for the farm.”

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