By Ida Chong
Minister of Community, Sport and Cultural Development
VICTORIA – This province has a rich agricultural history, and we want to make sure our farmers have the support they need to prosper well into the future in a challenging and competitive industry that requires long hours and huge investments in infrastructure and land.
We depend on our agricultural products for domestic use and consumption, as well as export revenues, and need to do everything we can to keep farmers on the land. For my ministry, that has meant taking a second look at farm property assessments.
In 2008, our government appointed the Farm Assessment Review Panel to examine our farm property assessment practices. Since then, new rules have been implemented, clarifying the split classification of Agriculture Land Reserve (ALR) and non-ALR farm properties. What this means is that a number of farmers, particularly those on smaller properties in rural-urban areas with high land values, will see significantly lower property taxes than they had prior to the changes.
As a result of the most recent legislative and regulatory amendments, based on recommendations from the Farm Assessment Review Panel, farmers will also benefit from four more property assessment changes. Generally speaking, these changes will ensure farmers pay lower property taxes and are able to maintain or grow their business and enjoy the fruits of their labour once they retire. Providing relief for farm property tax by reviewing farm assessment policies also fulfils a commitment from our government’s recently released agrifoods strategy, part of the BC Jobs Plan.
Intensive operations such as dairy, poultry, mushroom farms and greenhouses can require capital investments of several million dollars.
Starting in 2013, existing property tax exemptions will be higher on outbuildings like barns, silos, and other improvements. The exemptions will be the higher of either 87.5 per cent of the total assessed value of all farm improvements or $50,000, which is the current maximum. This will encourage the growth and expansion of operations throughout the province by allowing farmers to make improvements or add to their infrastructure without having to pay more taxes.
And we have good news for farmers with farm dwellings in the ALR who want to retire from active operation. Retired long-term farmers and their spouses who want to stay on the homestead can apply annually to have their residences taxed as farm dwellings as long as the farm remains productive. For some, this could translate into the difference between having to find a new home and being able to stay on the land they have worked for decades.
We also want to make sure our farmers and ranchers can focus on what they do best – producing fruits, vegetables, grains, meats and dairy products and raising livestock – without having to focus too heavily on paperwork.
Farm income reporting periods will now be aligned with farmers’ Canada Revenue Agency income tax reporting periods, reducing paperwork and stress. There will be special reporting periods to deal with new farms, new owners of properties already classified as farms, or developing farms, which do not have a two-to-three-year history of production by the owner.
In addition, we are providing farmers with more production opportunities to achieve and maintain farm status, which usually reduces the taxes they pay for their properties. Right now, a farm of two to 10 acres must generate $2,500 in gross sales from qualifying products produced on the property to gain farm status. For smaller operations in particular, this can be a challenge. So we have expanded the number of qualifying agricultural products to include birch and maple sap and syrup products, breeding products produced as part of a livestock operation and horse stud services provided as part of a horse rearing operation.
All of these changes recognize the meaningful contributions farmers and ranchers make to B.C. – contributions to our economy, our sustenance and our sustainability that make this province such a unique and attractive place to invest and raise families.