Farmers in limbo as land leases run out

Farmers in limbo as land leases run out

The future hangs in the balance for farmers in Lim Chu Kang, who will not have their leases renewed as their farms have to make way for army training grounds.

A total of 62 farms, ranging from vegetable plots to frog breeders, will have to move out between 2017 and 2021, after their leases expire.

Despite being told of the decision by the Singapore Land Authority in September, they have yet to get details of exactly where they will move to, and the size of the plots available for tender.

Said Mr Alan Toh, 50, who owns the 4ha Yili Vegetation that produces Chinese cabbage and baby bok choy: "We cannot decide whether to bid on the new land plots or not because we still do not know much at the moment."

However, farms whose leases run out between this year and early 2017 will be given an extension until June 2017 to move. The land has been slated to replace the Defence Ministry's current training grounds, which it is giving up for the development of Tengah New Town, according to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA).

Ten farmers The Straits Times spoke to said they had expected to have their leases extended.

Orchid farmer Lim Kah Hin, 54, for instance, built a $500,000 greenhouse last year, and had expected at least two more three-year renewals on his lease, which expires in 2017, because nearby farms had been approved to stay on until 2021 or longer. "I would not have built it if I knew I was going to move," he said of the greenhouse.

Fish farm Apollo Aquaculture Group's chief executive, Mr Eric Ng, 41, has started talks with architects, but is still waiting to hear details of available plot sizes. "We are prepared to move and pump in money at the new place," he said. "But we still do not know the type of land we are going to get."

The planned move has also shaken the confidence of farmers who hope to pass on the family business. Previously, they held the land for 20 years, but now will be given only a 10-year lease after they secure a new site, with the possibility of extending for another decade.

Farm 85 director Tan Koon Hua, 46, said: "I am reluctant to ask my children to take over when I am not sure of the future of my farms." He has three affected vegetable farms totalling 10ha.

The AVA said farmers who demonstrate a good track record with consistently high productivity will be assessed favourably in their bids for new land. It said the new sites in Lim Chu Kang and Sungei Tengah will be smaller, and will be available for tender from next year.

To help farmers manage with less space, the AVA has launched a $63 million fund to help them invest in high-tech farming equipment and systems, which should help "raise their productivity and intensify the use of limited farmland".

Still, farmers say they have only a few months to decide if they want to move or leave the business. Mr John Hay, 60, of Hay Dairies, which produces goats' milk, said: "That is not enough time. It is a multi-million-dollar investment."

Added frog farmer Chelsea Wan, 31: "We will move if the return on investment makes sense... but it is hard, with only a 10-year lease."

This article was first published on Nov 1, 2014.
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