Govt to tender out new farm land with 20-year lease

May 10, 2017


THE Singapore government will tender out new plots of farmland with longer leases of 20 years, instead of the 10 years announced previously, for productive and high-tech farming.

"This follows from feedback we've received from farmers that they needed a longer period to recover the investments for new technologies," Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in his blog on Tuesday.

In assessing the proposals for these new farm plots, the government will place greater emphasis on quality and productivity considerations, said Mr Wong, who is also Second Minister for Finance.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA), which last year announced its decision to go back to the original lease period of 20 years, is due to release more details on the tenders soon.

Mr Wong's comments came ahead of a scheduled meeting that AVA is having with the affected farmers on Thursday.

Alan Toh, managing director of Yili Vegetation & Trading Pte Ltd, said the longer land lease is good news for the industry. A 10-year lease is too short as the gestation period for agricultural production tends to be longer than manufacturing, he said. "This will give us more room to plan and invest for the long term."

Mr Toh said he will consider whether to tender for the new farm plots, pending more details from the government. Yili currently operates out of a four-hectare farm in Lim Chu Kang.

The farm is among 62 of the local farms in Lim Chu Kang that were told in late 2014 that their land leases would not be renewed when they expired in June 2017, as the land has to make way for the Defence Ministry's new training grounds. But following an outpouring of public support for the farmers, AVA extended the farmers' tenure until the end of 2019.

Jurong Frog Farm's director Chelsea Wan pointed out that it typically takes at least five years to bring a new farm to an optimised state.

She felt that the best scenario for the affected farms is to be offered an extension of time at their existing sites to test out new business models and technology before plunging headlong into high-tech farming at the new sites.

Jurong Frog Farm, founded by her father in 1981, now occupies 1.1 hectares of land in Lim Chu Kang. It has not gone high-tech yet, but will study how to do so should it decide to bid for a new farm plot, she said.

Mr Wong said in his blog that a modern agriculture sector will continue to play a key role in Singapore's future, even as the economy evolves and society becomes more urbanised. And one way to enhance Singapore's food security is to grow food locally, using new farming technologies to significantly boost production levels.

"Not only will this provide us with more locally grown food, it will also help our farmers scale up their businesses," Mr Wong said. "The government will do more to help farmers adopt these new technologies."

Some have already come on board, Mr Wong said, describing how Yili farm is using taller growing houses and semi-automated curtain systems for better ventilation and temperature control, and curved plastic roofs to protect against the elements.

Yili's vegetables are now growing better and harvesting losses have been reduced. Farm worker productivity has also increased as they can now work in the growing houses even during hot afternoons.

Mr Toh told BT that this two-year project has paid off for the group, saving manhours, increasing the harvests and ensuring that production targets are better met.

Another example Mr Wong cited in his blog was coastal fish farm, Marine Life Aquaculture (MLA). Previously, MLA needed over a week to manually transfer 100,000 fish fingerlings using plastic containers from their land-based nursery on Pulau Ketam to sea-cages 100 metres away.

Now that MLA has invested in a live fish pump, the same task can now be done in a day. Using a scanner with imaging technology, MLA is also able to track and count the number of fingerlings automatically during this process, Mr Wong said.