The bottom line: It’s complicated
By Jonathan Martin
Farmers have plenty of good reasons for considering the expansion of their operations into another county.
The land might be cheaper, the soil might be better, or it might just be where a family member lives.
Regardless, producers have plenty of things they must keep in mind before they make the drive.
A producer can own and operate his or her business anywhere in Canada as long as the farm is unincorporated, Matthew Orchard, a real estate, employment and business lawyer with Monteith Ritsma Phillips Professional Corp. In Stratford, Ont., told Farms.com.
Incorporated farms may have to register with the government if the work they’re doing is interprovincial.
“As far as legal concerns go, aside from those farmers always have to keep in mind, I’d say they should look into the bylaws enforced in whichever municipality they’re looking to move into,” he said.
Local farm groups will likely be able to help a new neighbour get a handle on how things are done in the area, Crispin Colvin, a director with the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, told Farms.com.
“I’d want to know how running the new farm would be different from running the old one,” he said. “I’d also think of the distance I’d need to travel between them. If I have employees, paying them for the hours they’re going to need to drive my equipment, and their safety while they’re doing so, is another concern. Cars running into equipment on the road is an ongoing problem.”
If the distance between farmland is great enough, it might be worth hiring additional employees to manage the new property. New staff add an element of complexity to the issue, though.
“I think a lot of farmers forget to consider human resources (HR),” Andrea De Groot, managing director of the Ontario Pork Industry Council (OPIC), told Farms.com. OPIC provides HR training, resources and toolkits to the province’s pork producers.
“A lot of farmers come from a background where family was not only the management but also the workforce. As (operations) grow to include employees, the HR component of farm operations becomes critical.”
Ag workers in a prospective region would know the ins and outs of the county as well, Colvin said. Local politics, issues and worries are things he would keep top-of-mind.
“I would hate to start moving into a new barn to find activists picketing on my road,” he said.
Colvin, Orchard and De Groot agree that the main concern for a farmer looking to work farther afield should be his or her bottom line and whether the new land, no matter how cheap its price tag, will turn a profit.
Working at a distance brings with it new expenses, including taxes, the wear and tear on existing equipment and, potentially, the purchase of additional machinery.
Rather than spending a full day on the road moving equipment from one site to another, it might be worth investing in more machinery, Colvin suggested. However, a farmer should be “very sure” the puchase will result in a positive revenue stream in the long run, Colvin added.
Equipment is “a big investment,” he said. “I think the new machines would have to be brought in as a slow trickle over the course of years.”