High-Tech Farming Business in Singapore: How to Get Started
Looking to set up a high-tech farming business in Singapore? This article is for you.
High-tech farming, also commonly known as “agri-tech”, refers to intensive farming that is aided by technological advancements. In contrast to traditional farming, which is heavily reliant on uncontrollable environmental factors, high-tech farming allows production to take place indoors and within highly controlled environments.
All farming trades can benefit from the use of technology, as major innovations are made and continue to be made in various areas, including indoor vertical farming, modern aquaculture and greenhouse practices.
High-tech farming allows for more food and produce to be grown all year round and at a consistently high quality. This is particularly attractive in land-scarce Singapore, which has a goal of producing 30% of its nutritional needs by 2030. In an effort to ramp up local production and promote food security, the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has also established a $39 million “30×30 Express” grant to support the high-tech farming industry.
This article will discuss:
- How to start a high-tech farming business in Singapore
- How to find a space for a farm in Singapore
- The submission of a farm plan
- The application for a farm licence
- The necessary approvals to obtain and guidelines to follow
How to Start a High-Tech Farming Business in Singapore
The SFA and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) have launched an industry guide to consolidate all the regulatory requirements and procedures that budding farmers may need to know when developing their high-tech farming business in Singapore.
The following figure provides a broad overview of the general process of setting up a farm on agricultural land in Singapore, including the various approvals that have to be obtained at each phase of the process:
Figure 1. Developing a Farm in Singapore – General Timeline
Registering your business
As a preliminary step, you may choose to register your business as a company.
Incorporation confers significant benefits, including separate legal personality of the company and limited liability for its owners. This means that you, as the company’s owner, will not be personally liable for the company’s debts or any legal action taken against the company.
You may engage a corporate services firm to help you with the registration of your business.
Engaging technical professionals
You are recommended to engage a Qualified Person (QP), such as a Registered Architect or Professional Engineer, as soon as possible.
Your QP will be able to advise you on the regulatory requirements, and work out your building plans and capital investments, thus giving you a head start in developing your farm. The list of QPs qualified to submit plans on your behalf can be found on the Board of Architects website and the Professional Engineers Board Singapore website.
Since farm development can require significant capital outlay, you should also carefully work through your finances to ensure some certainty during the process of setting up your farm. You are encouraged to engage a Quantity Surveyor (QS), who will prepare all the cost estimates for your construction project as early as possible. Your QS will also assist you in managing costs and ensuring that the project is completed within its expected budget.
Finding a Space For Your Farm in Singapore
Bidding for agricultural land
You may purchase land for agricultural use to set up your high-tech farming business. In Singapore, agricultural land is usually let out via open tenders, which are awarded based on proposals that can best optimise the land for production. Proposals are evaluated based on the following criteria:
- Production capability;
- Production track record;
- Relevant experience and qualifications; and
- Innovation and sustainability.
There are two types of tenders:
- Fixed Price Tender – a single-stage process where the land price is fixed, and the Tender Evaluation Committee conducts an evaluation of bidders’ tender proposals to see who to award it to. Fixed Price Tenders apply to businesses that produce leafy vegetables, food fish, beansprouts or quail eggs; and
- Concept and Price Tender – a two-stage process where the Concept Evaluation Committee will first evaluate the concept proposal based on assessment criteria, and if the proposal passes, the Tender Evaluation Committee will evaluate the Tendered Sale Price for award of the tender. Concept and Price Tenders apply to all other businesses involved in agricultural farming in general.
Finding other space options
Besides purchasing agricultural land, there are other space alternatives available for you to set up your high-tech farming business, such as converting existing building pockets for farm use.
After identifying a suitable space and getting the land or building owners’ approval, you would need to obtain SFA’s in-principle support by submitting your Farm Business Proposal for evaluation here. A Farm Business Proposal is required only if you are seeking to establish a farm using alternative space options.
Once SFA has given support for your Farm Business Proposal, you may proceed to consult and obtain approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for change of land use, as well as the National Environment Agency (NEA) for pollution control and other siting requirements. You should seek clearance within 3 months from the date that the SFA approves your farm business proposal.
Land and space that are not zoned as “Agriculture” may sometimes not be suitable for high-tech farming use. Hence, it is good practice to first obtain approval from the relevant agencies before renting a space, so that you are able to tie in the tenure with the validity period of their approvals.
Submitting a Farm Plan
Once you have successfully secured the premises for your farm, your QP will have to submit a farm plan to the online portal, CORENET, for SFA’s endorsement before endorsement by the other relevant agencies. The farm plan is required for all farmers, regardless of whether the farm is established on agricultural land or alternative space options.
SFA will assess and process submissions within 2 weeks from the complete submission of required documents. If you subsequently make amendments to your farm plan, your QP will have to submit the revised plans for clearance with the relevant agencies.
Do also note that you will have to install the necessary machine or infrastructure on your farm premises, e.g., lighting systems and sewerage installations, once you have obtained approval for the premises.
Applying For a Farm Licence
A farm licence is required if you intend to keep, rear, or breed animals or birds, or cultivate plants, for commercial production. Only the lessee or tenant of the premises approved for farming use can apply for the licence.
The farm licence application should be submitted here within 3 months from the date of approval notification of your Farm Business Proposal. As part of the licensing process, SFA will inspect and check that the farm is operationally ready for production.
The completed application will be processed in about 25 working days and SFA will inform you of the outcome of the application via email. The licence fee payable is S$100 per annum.
Obtaining the Necessary Approvals and Following the Relevant Guidelines
All works will require endorsement by the relevant landlord and must fully comply with technical agency requirements, including that of the URA, NEA, Building and Construction Authority (BCA), National Parks Board (NParks), National Water Agency (PUB), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Land Transport Authority (LTA).
Some of the following requirements and guidelines may be relevant:
Land use zoning and planning
The URA has to ensure that all land sites in Singapore are developed or used in accordance with the Master Plan (a statutory land use plan). Its guidelines pertaining to agriculture developments can be found here. Your QP is to lodge your development plans and development applications with the URA.
Structural and building safety
Before you can carry out any building or structural works, the BCA must approve of the building or structural plans, which your QP will submit. Once the building works are completed, you should apply to the Commissioner of Building Control for a Temporary Occupation Permit (TOP), or Certificate of Statutory Completion (CSC), for use of the building. Additionally, the design and construction of a building must comply with performance requirements prescribed in the Building Control Regulations.
Moreover, your farm development plans have to be in line with the NParks’ Guidelines on Greenery Provision and Tree Conservation for Developments, to ensure that your farm is surrounded by sufficient green spaces and that trees are conserved when your farm is built.
PUB’s Code of Practice on Sewerage and Sanitary Works and Code of Practice on Surface Water Drainage also specify certain requirements regarding flood risks, sanitation and pollution, as well as sewerage and drainage systems. These help to ensure that your farm’s utilities are properly served by modern sanitation and connected to public sewerage and drainage systems.
In addition, the SCDF’s Code of Practice for Fire Precautions in Buildings 2018 stipulates fire safety requirements for buildings in Singapore. In particular, your farm must have appropriate fire escape routes and your building materials or farm infrastructure must not be fire hazards.
The SFA’s industry guide would serve as a helpful point of reference as you develop your farm. You are also encouraged to engage your team of QPs as early as possible. Their advice would be essential at multiple steps of the process, ensuring that you are well prepared to start your high-tech farming business in Singapore.
You may also contact the SFA for further enquiries, or get in touch with a lawyer for legal advice to ensure compliance with the relevant laws and regulations.
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