SASKATCHEWAN FARMLAND IN FEWER HANDS, STUDY FINDS
28 Nov 2014
FARMLAND IN FEWER HANDS, STUDY FINDS
Team to quantify purchases
Vast tracts of Saskatchewan farmland have been scooped up by investors from outside the province.
Some rural municipalities have seen a 20-fold increase in corporate land ownership since 1994. Three corporations each now own more than 100,000 acres.
That and other revelations form part of a joint study by researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Regina and University of Manitoba, quantifying the rapid concentration of farmland ownership in the province. “There are huge amounts of land being bought up,” said Saskatchewan native and University of Manitoba professor Annette Desmarais.
“We’re just beginning to understand what the impacts are. It makes it very difficult to build community in that environment.”
The data is scheduled to be presented this morning to delegates at the National Farmers Union (NFU) convention in Saskatoon. The full study is due for publication in the January edition of the Canadian Journal of Food Studies.
Desmarais and the other researchers combed through electronic and paper records at rural municipality offices and other locations. They focused on three RMs in different regions.
In the RMs of Harris, Lajord and Excel, less than 3,200 acres were owned by investors or “farmer/investor hybrids” in 1994. That number has now grown to 59,441.
The change is largely due to amendments made a decade ago to the legislation governing farmland ownership. Previously restricted to Saskatchewan residents, farmland can now be purchased by people living outside the province.
Desmarais and NFU president Jan Slomp said the situation exacerbates the decline of some rural communities. The investors don’t generally live in the areas where they own land, their kids don’t go to the local school, they don’t contribute as much to the local economy, and they aren’t part of the town’s social life.
“It’s absentee exploitation of the land,” Slomp said. “It’s sucking the lifeblood out of our communities.”
They say this “land grab” is making it hard for a new generation of farmers to start their own operations.
The largest landowner listed in the study is Robert Andjelic & Andjelic Land Inc., with Saskatchewan holdings of 161,241 acres.
In an interview Thursday, Andjelic, who hails from Manitoba and now lives in Alberta, said he actually owns about 180,000 acres.
He said Saskatchewan farmland has risen in price since the changes, but it’s still among the most affordable, most productive land in the world.
He said farms must grow to stay competitive and to take advantage of the larger, better machinery. One seeding machine, which used to be six metres wide, is now four times that size.
“We have to be as efficient as we can,” he said.
Andjelic said he partners with young local farmers to produce crops on his land, and provides jobs to others. He said the higher land prices have allowed older farmers to retire comfortably.
“It’s put money in all their pockets,” he said.
Desmarais and Slomp said land concentration is not inevitable.
“It all depends on what legislation you put in place,” Desmarais said.
They point to Prince Edward Island, which restricts farmers to 1,000 acres of land and corporations to 3,000. The rules have been in place since the 1970s, when large potato and french fry companies tried to take control of large amounts of land.
NFU board member and PEI organic farmer Reg Phelan said the rules have allowed family farms to survive. PEI continues to be Canada’s largest potato producer, despite the small average farm size. Phelan said the law has been challenged several times in court, but has remained in place.
“It’s about what type of farming you want to see,” he said.
Desmarais wrote the study with U of R professor Andre Magnan, Saskatchewan researcher Darrin Qualman and Nettie Wiebe, a professor at St. Andrew’s College at the U of S.
The research team is already at work on a followup to provide a more detailed picture of farmland ownership in Saskatchewan.