Small acreage farm challenged by BC Assessment

White has owned the Linden Avenue acreage for ten years, at one time growing cherries and apples on the five acre plot.

Tony White of Kaleden stands in front of his vineyard in Kaleden. BC Assessment has been reviewing - and revoking long standing agricultural operations in the Okanagan and Similkameen in the past year.

Tony White of Kaleden stands in front of his vineyard in Kaleden. BC Assessment has been reviewing - and revoking long standing agricultural operations in the Okanagan and Similkameen in the past year.

Grower Tony White of Kaleden is struggling to understand the motives behind a recent BC Assessment campaign to have his property’s farm status revoked.

White has owned the Linden Avenue acreage for ten years, at one time growing cherries and apples on the five acre plot.

In 2006, he removed the orchards, “At my own expense,” he said, “there was no incentive money being offered at the time,” – to replant two acres to Gewerztraminer grapes.

White had a contractor looking after the crop when it was in orchard fruit, but eventually his profit margin declined to the point where there wasn’t any interest in looking after it any more. White, however, still wanted to grow something, so he moved into grapes.

“My timing for the change was bad,” White admits. The local economy was in high gear; orchards were being replaced by vineyards up and down the valley, and everything from agricultural materials to labour, if available, came at a premium. White estimates that it cost him between 22,000 and 25,000 dollars to replant two acres of vines.

“I’m glad I didn’t put the total four acres into production,” he admits now. White lost several plants in the first year, had to replant, only to have winter kill and the hard frost of October 2009 slow down production even more. With grapes, it takes roughly four years for a developing vineyard to reach full production; White figures that because of the last few years’ weather and his replant issues, he is still a year or two away from realizing full production.

In late winter of 2010, White began receiving notices from BC Assessment, threatening his farm status.

“I’ve had the property for ten years, and had never been contacted by BC Assessment,” he said. “Even when the orchard was contracted out – they never inquired about what, or how much I was producing. Then, suddenly last year, I began to receive letters indicating that my farm status was in jeopardy.”

White contacted BC Assessment several times, attempting to explain his situation. At one point last fall, he spoke with BC Assessment representative who assured him that, under the circumstances, they would allow him more time to generate more income from his crop.

Early in December of last year, he received notice that his farm status was being terminated.

“It makes me want to take the whole operation out and just leave the land sit,” White said in frustration. Even allowing for the contracting out of some of the vineyard labour, White estimates that he spends 80 to 100 hours per year, mostly during the best weather of the summer, tending to the crop.

More recently, BC Assessment sent out property assessment notices for 2011. They wasted no time reassessing White’s property, whose tax rate has shot up.

“If they are taking away my agricultural status for tax purposes, then I should be able to remove my land from the Agricultural Land Reserve,” White argues.

“They are creating a situation where I can’t add value to my property by growing fruit – I doubt if the neighbours would appreciate me raising cattle or sheep – so let me out of the reserve so that I can build a senior’s complex or subdivide.”