Ceiling set on rural property - foreigners equally eligible

Saeima supported amendments to the Law on the Privatization of Land in Rural Areas in final reading Thursday, setting a 2000-hectare limit on how much rural agricultural property any private person or legal entity may own.

The bill passed with 77 MP’s in favor and none against.

Foreign residents and companies from outside of Latvia previously subject to restrictions on purchasing rural land are now set to be able to do so under the same rules applied to any citizen, state, local government or private company, religious organization or higher education institute. Prior to Thursday’s adopted amendments, foreign firms and residents were required to show a three-year consecutive stay involving activity in the agricultural sector.

Deputies also passed a proposal allowing regional and local governments the right to determine maximum size of tracts owned by a single person or company in their administrative territories, without exceeding the new 2000-hectare ceiling set by the amended law.

Non-governmental organizations and foundations with at least three years of activity in the environmental protection, agricultural crop production or hunting sectors will be allowed to acquire land up to 5 hectares in area.

In order to henceforth acquire agricultural land, a person must be registered for economic activity, eligible to receive direct payments and be able to demonstrate income from commercial agricultural production during the past three years comprising at least a third of their entire economic activity. The person must also have experience in agriculture or receive formal education or its equivalent therein.

Landholders must begin agricultural management work within a year of purchasing property and provide written proof of its use in production. Fines are set in case no work is begun within a three-year period. They must be registered taxpayers and hire professionally qualified agricultural workers of the appropriate specialization.

Media following the course of the bill through Saeima reported heated discussions over where to set the ceiling. Larger agricultural producers wished to see it raised to a 3000-hectare mark.

On the other hand the independent NGO Latvian Federation of Farmers warned of dire socioeconomic consequences from unjust and disproportionate concentrations of land under single owners and lobbied instead for a stringent 500-hectare limit as perfectly sufficient for Latvia’s tiny scale. 

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