Rural landowners urged Red Deer County on Tuesday to protect farmland and not allow acreages to be carved out of quarter sections.
A public hearing on an updated Municipal Development Plan drew about 40 people to Red Deer County Centre and several speakers cautioned that creating more acreages through the plan’s first parcel out provisions will lead to more conflict between farmers and acreage owners over issues like crop spraying or manure fertilizing.
Under the county’s existing plan, an undeveloped parcel between three to five acres can be subdivided out of a quarter section that has not been previously subdivided.
Greg Conn, who farms west of Innisfail, said a “quiet majority” of rural residents do not support the creation of acreages on undeveloped pieces of farmland.
“Once you open the floodgates on this, there will be no closing of them,” said Conn.
He called on council to put agriculture on a “higher pedestal” when reviewing land-use applications.
Another resident said speculators are buying quarter sections, subdividing them and then reselling them for a “tidy profit.”
Mabel Hamilton, who runs a cow-calf operation near Innisfail, said she’s not against acreages but the county must develop criteria that first protects agricultural producers.
Mayor Jim Wood said it is clear that council must sit down and further discuss how to address first parcels out.
While some are opposed to allowing the acreage parcels, other rural landowners support them as a way to give younger generations a foothold in the farming business.
Coun. Dave Hoar said he does not want to rule first parcels out entirely because of their usefulness in helping young farmers get a start.
“On the other hand, I don’t want it to go in the direction of (first parcel out approval) being almost automatic.”
Coun. George Gehrke suggested that those applying for first parcel out must have owned the land for five to 10 years as a guard against speculation.
The issue will have a great impact on the county and must be considered carefully, said Coun. Richard Lorenz.
Other rural municipalities have allowed their farmland to be cut up into small pieces and are now facing the repercussions, he warned.
Council unanimously passed second reading on the understanding that it will review the first parcel out issue, among others.
Amendments are expected to come back to council before the end of the year.