Traditionally Canadian agriculture land has been owned by families making a living off the land by growing food.
Local citizens owning the farmland make good long-term decisions for their farms, their families and the food system. The farm owners are an important part of the community, the region and the country; and they are also good stewards of the land. Farmers as a whole are an aging population, any agriculture meeting or gathering shows this very clearly by the grey hair present. This aging population is increasingly looking at slowing down and are ready to turn the business over to someone younger but these young people are not very plentiful and even those who are cannot afford to purchase the land. Sadly in today’s reality it is not possible to purchase land; stock the land with livestock and or equipment and at the same time expect to be able to make a living while paying down the debt.
As well as an aging population the Canadian farmer is increasingly being weakened by massive debt which means they are not able to have the luxury of making decisions based on the long-term good of the family or the long-term viability of the farm but are instead indebted to banks, agri-businesses and investors. These corporations or wealthy investors do not have the same long-term vision and corresponding contribution to society.
As the pressure mounts on the farmer due to age and increasing debt the result is going to be a sell-off of farm land. In countries around the world, Canada included, farm land is being gobbled up at an alarming rate by no-name investors, corporations and foreign entities.
Investors and corporations are purchasing Canadian agricultural land which in many areas is still relatively “cheap” compared to many parts of the world for example land in Saskatchewan and Manitoba can be purchased for $500-$700 an acre compared to Iowa in the US at $6,000-$10,000 an acre. These investors are betting that rising food prices, a growing world population and a perceived potential world wide scarcity of farmland will be worth their investment. Many predict one day farm land will be the new gold and along with this will be a new “gold rush” to buy agriculture land.
A few examples of this increasing buy up of farm land include Nilsson Bros, Canada’s largest packing corporation. They own 26,000 acres in the Peace River area, other large tracts of land around Alberta; they also own feedlots, most of western Canada’s auction facilities, a cattle finance company and an insurance company. Another example; One Earth Corporation, whose goal is to become Canada’s largest fully integrated corporate farm has a plan to farm one million acres. Then there is Assiniboia Capital Corporation which owns more than 110,000 acres, worth about $55 million in Saskatchewan. This company’s goal is to put together a farmland portfolio that might be of interest to big-league investors. According to Fortune Magazine the biggest investors in farmland over the next decade will probably be state-owned wealth funds and governments of crop-starved countries.
The intention of most of these large corporations is to rent the land back to farmers to grow the requested crops. Unfortunately this may be the only way young people interested in farming can farm and the only way the aging debt ridden farmer can retire. It sounds like a return to the feudal system when land was owned by the wealthy and farmed by indentured serfs. Our forefathers who fought for freedom and democracy will be turning in their graves.