Saturday, 18 June 2016

New agriculture land to be tendered on 20-year lease: AVA

Agriculture land leases to be doubled to 20 years; 62 Lim Chu Kang farms will have tenures extended to end-2019
AVA to offer original lease period after getting farmers' feedback
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 17 Jun 2016

All new agricultural land will now be tendered on a 20-year lease instead of a 10-year period, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said yesterday.

The new lease periods will come into effect when the next batch of agricultural land comes up for tender next year.

AVA decided to go back to the original lease period of 20 years after receiving feedback from farmers that a 10-year tenure, with a possible 10-year extension - announced by the Government in 2014 - is too short for investing in automation.

AVA chief executive Tan Poh Hong said: "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."

The Government informed 62 farms in 2014 that their leases would expire in June next year, as the land they occupy will be needed for redevelopment. They were also informed that new farm sites would be available for tender at the end of last year.

However, they have now been told that their tenures will be extended by 21/2 years.

The first tranche of land sales will be launched from early next year due to the extensive land preparation works needed at the sites.

AVA said the lease extension is aimed at giving farms sufficient transit time. The announcement was made during a visit to Seng Choon Farm yesterday by Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Koh Poh Koon, who lauded the fully automated poultry farm for its use of technology.

Dr Koh, who is also an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, said: "Farming is an important sector, even though it's a small part of our economy, because it is one way in which we can ensure our food security."

Dr Koh later met members of the Kranji Countryside Association (KCA) to discuss farming issues. Of KCA's 40 members, 14 are located in Lim Chu Kang, and they must vacate their premises when their leases expire, to make way for army training grounds.

While the exact details of the location and size of the new plots available for tender have yet to be announced, farmers told The Straits Times that one possible area being considered is Neo Tiew Road in the Kranji area.

They said that while they are happy about the lease extensions, they are still worried about the future.

"The ideal lease length for farming is 30 years," said Hay Dairies business director Leon Hay. "We deal with livestock and organic materials that need time to grow and harvest, and time to recoup money invested in technology."

Jurong Frog Farm co-director Chelsea Wan said she will decide whether to keep her farm when more details on the tender process are made available next year.

"It's an open tender, so we need to know how many farms there are and how many plots. If it's going to the highest bidder, I don't think it's an option that we will take," she said.

Mr Tan Koon Hua, 48, director of Farm 85, a vegetable farm, said he may retire if the soil at the new site is not suitable for his crops. His son Tan Liang Zhong, 21, said: "If he retires, it will be a bit tough because these skills take years to learn and I don't think I'll be able to make it on my own."

* Farmers to compete on concept in new land tender
Vegetable farmers face fixed-price tender; proposals judged on factors like innovation
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 14 Aug 2017

New farmland will be released later this month and, for the first time, the 12 plots for growing leafy vegetables in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah will be tendered out on concept and not price, the latter of which will be fixed.

This means that farmers growing leafy vegetables will not have to worry about engaging in a price war trying to secure the land. Instead, their proposals will be judged on factors like production capability, track record, relevant experience and qualifications, and whether they can harness innovation to improve and sustain production, and keep their businesses viable.

Under this fixed-price tender method, land will be parcelled out by farm type. The other three types to be tendered out this way, over the next few years, will be for quail eggs, food fish and beansprouts.

The land price will be fixed by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore's Chief Valuer's Office, which will take reference from prices of agriculture land sold by the Government, a spokesman for the Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) told The Straits Times.

"Apart from past land prices, rents obtained from the leasing of agricultural properties were also considered," she added.

Other plots for general agriculture food farms, such as frog and goat farms, will be tendered using concept and price. Proposals will first be evaluated on concept. Of the shortlisted candidates, the one with the highest bid will then win the tender.

"The difference in approach is that in the concept and price category, the land can be used for a range of farm types instead of a specific one," said the AVA spokesman. "Land price varies depending on the type of farming conducted on the land. As the land price for various farm types is different and the farm type is not fixed, these plots cannot have a fixed price."

Concepts will be judged on the same criteria as those for the fixed-price tender.

The local agriculture sector produces less than 10 per cent of total food supply, but is vital for food security as it serves as a buffer in case of food supply shocks.

The last time land was tendered out for agricultural use was more than two decades ago.

Come end-2021, the leases of 62 farms in Lim Chu Kang will run out, and the land will be given over to military use.

In total, the AVA will tender out 36 new plots of farmland on 20- year leases. The plots are in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah, and span 60ha in total.

The new plots, however, will not offset the loss in farmland at the end of 2021.

But the hope is to step up Singapore's food security within the constraints of limited land by encouraging the use of high-technology farming in the new plots to boost productivity and yield.

Eden PurelyFresh Farm, formerly known as Eden Garden Farm, will be putting in a bid for the upcoming tender this month.

Chief executive and founder Desmond Khoo, 30, welcomed the fixed-price tender method as one that benefits working farmers who already have a proven track record.

For farmers like him, it also removes the uncertainty of naming the right price to secure the land.

"It is good that the Government is helping us with the land price because, in this way, we can use the money to invest in high-tech equipment and research to increase the farm's productivity and yield."

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