Are foreign investors eyeing this pie?


Strong interest in Sask. farmland | Locals concerned about outside investors, foreign connections

Saskatchewan farmland continues to be viewed as fertile ground for corporate investors to sink their money.

But as the amount of investor-owned farmland grows, so do concerns about foreign ownership and loopholes in the province’s farmland ownership regulations.

Mark Folk, general manager of the Saskatchewan Farmland Security Board, said concerns about foreign ownership are becoming more common.

But so far, nothing suggests that foreign investors are acquiring title to significant amounts of 
Saskatchewan farmland.

Nor is there evidence to suggest that Canadian buyers are purchasing land on behalf of offshore investors.

“We’ve heard lots of comments from around the province of foreign money coming in,” said Folk.

“We follow up with every land transaction … we verify the owners of the land … and we verify that they are Canadian citizens.”

Saskatchewan farmland is generating significant interest from Canadian buyers outside of the province, Folk said.

Among those buyers are Chinese-Canadian entrepreneurs, many with significant capital assets and business connections overseas.

“We have seen lots of purchases from people living in B.C., people living in Toronto, people living in different provinces and we’ve seen lots of purchases made by permanent residents or Canadian citizens that have immigrated from a number of different places, including China,” he said.

The influx of investors has brought changes to the province’s land ownership patterns.

Farmers are no longer the only people interested in acquiring farmland.

And with recent changes to grain marketing laws, more investors are now creating vertically integrated businesses that secure investment capital, buy farmland, sign production contracts with farmers and export commodities directly to buyers in China, India and other overseas markets.

Near Ogema, Sask., about 120 kilometres south of Regina, investment in farmland has been brisk.

In the last few years, well-heeled buyers with overseas connections have been scooping up land at two or three times the assessed value.

In many cases, the new buyers come from Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto or other parts of Canada. They have deep pockets but little or no farming experience.

Ryan McKerricher, a local farmer and councillor with the Rural Municipality of Key West, said many local residents aren’t sure what to make of the recent buying frenzy.

“There’s been a pile of land bought around here, that’s for sure,” he said.

“Everybody just says it’s investors buying it … but that’s what scares people most is that you can’t put a face to them.”

According to McKerricher, farmland that was selling for $60,000 a couple of years ago is now selling with minimal effort for $100,000 or more.

“If you’re ready to retire and get out of farming, it’s a good thing … because there’s a buyer waiting,” he said.

“All you’ve got to do is make a phone call and you know you’re going to be well paid. But if you’re just starting out and trying to buy land, it’s a tough go because … it’s being bought up so fast and it’s (overpriced)…”

Richard Linton, a farmer who lives at nearby Pangman, Sask., said some of the most active buyers in the area are Chinese-Canadian investors who reside in Canada and have Canadian citizenship or permanent resident status.

Linton manages land for several landowners, including a Chinese-Canadian businessperson who recently bought 27 quarter sections in the area.

“We actually farm for him and we farm (for) another Chinese operator, and we farm for (Canadian corporation) MaxCrop, plus we farm for some guys … (with connections in) India,” he said.

Linton said he thinks investors are acquiring the land lawfully and are not circumventing farmland ownership regulations.

Last week, he was scheduled to meet with another Chinese-Canadian investor who is interested in buying significant quantities of farmland around Ogema.

“A lot of these guys are not interested in buying a quarter or two. They want to buy a large operation and as far as I know, their objective is to farm the land themselves,” he said.

One of the larger buyers in the Ogema area is MaxCrop, a Canadian corporation with offices in Regina and Vancouver.

MaxCrop, run by Chinese-Canadian businessperson Andy Hu, consists of three separate companies including a real estate operation that buys farmland, a land management company that manages land for absentee investors and a farming operation involved in primary production, processing and value-added exporting.

MaxCrop’s real estate company buys farmland and offers it to individual investors who qualify under Saskatchewan’s farmland ownership laws, said Jason Dearborn, MaxCrop’s chief agricultural operations officer.

He said the corporation has bought about 70,000 acres of farmland in Saskatchewan since it was established about 24 months ago.

It now has significant land holdings in four different parts of the province.

Dearborn said the corporation leases about 90 percent of its land back to local farmers.

It also operates its own farm in east-central Saskatchewan near Sheho, Sask., and has plans to process crops and export them to foreign buyers.

He said MaxCrop is mindful of laws that regulate farmland ownership.

“Within the philosophy of (MaxCrop’s) group of companies, there are a couple of things that we’re very committed to and one is Canadian ownership of farmland,” he said.

“All of our individual investors are either Canadians or landed immigrants.”

Dearborn said Saskatchewan farmland represents an outstanding investment opportunity because it is inexpensive relative to land in other jurisdictions.

In addition, Saskatchewan’s farmers are aging and many will be looking at selling their land within the next decade or so.

Ogema mayor Wayne Myren said opinions among local landowners vary.

Some are concerned about the influx of outside money and the proliferation of investor-funded corporate farms. Others welcome a chance to sell land at high prices.

“Some view it as good, some view it as bad,” said Myren.

“There’s been a lot of land bought up in the area and there’s a lot more that’s going to come up for sale here in the next few years.

“As far as whether it’s a good thing or not, I really don’t know how to answer that. At least the land is getting farmed and at least the (new owners) are using locals to farm it,” he added.

Saskatchewan farmland ownership laws state that land can be purchased by Canadian citizens, permanent residents or 100 percent Canadian owned companies that are not publicly traded.

Investors that don’t meet those criteria are limited to buying 10 acres or less, although they may acquire more land if they obtain an exemption from the Saskatchewan Farmland Security Board.

Folk said Canadian investors who buy Saskatchewan farmland are not required to disclose details about their financing arrangements or the source of their investment capital.

Because of concerns over foreign ownership, the board has recently asked a handful of investors to sign declarations stating that they are the sole owners of the land.

“What we check is who is on title to the property, who is the owner,” Folk said.

“The legislation does not restrict who can provide the owner with financing so if there’s an investor who lives in B.C. that wants to get (offshore) financing … there’s nothing in the legislation that would restrict that.

“Some of the people that we deal with have significant wealth behind them and it’s often a situation where they’re coming into the country, becoming a permanent resident of Canada and coming over with a fairly sizable amount of money and they’re looking to invest,” he added.

“It would appear that Saskatchewan (farmland) is a hot commodity … these days.”

6 Responses

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  1. I understand the growing concern of farm land being bought up by foreign investors, who are they and are they Canadian citizens. My understading is that non-Canadian citizens and residents are very limited by how much they can actually buy in Canada. In Alberta they are limited to 40 acres or less (please correct me if I am wrong), In Sask. my understanding this is about the same; therefore a foreign company or wealthy business person cannot walk in and buy what they want.

    What we should not be concerned about is Canadian citizen’s buying up farm land. The reality is it was immigrants from other countries (namely Europe) who came to this country, was given or bought land and farmed it. As some may have already forgotten it was immigrants with dreams of a better life who came and bought, farmed and established the ag. industry of this country (one of them being my great grandfather). As Agriculture is changing and many older farmers are retiring more land has become available for purchase. With less young people farming and for that matter less qualified young people available to farm, this land has to end up in someone’s hands. The question being asked is who’s and the answer is anyone who is a Canadian citizen can. If we have people immigrating from other countries to become residents and citizens and want to farm then lets bring them in; remember that’s how farming got started in this country, by our immigrants. I am not saying there aren’t eager die hard capitalists who want to gobble up land in for investment purposes and future profits, these wolves in sheep clothing do exist but we must also give the benefit of a whole new group of people coming from other countries who see that farming in Sask. or this country is an opportunity. We are not going to be able to stop Canadian citizens with very deep pockets from buying up prime farm land for investment purposes, if people can make a buck they will. If someone from China, India, Iran, Brazil, Netherlands, South Africa or wherever they come from wants to farm and has some money to come here and do it then I say welcome to Canada. If our established farms are closing and selling off because our current generations do not want to do the work involved in running a farm business then I say step aside, stop complaining and let a whole new generation of immigrants take on the challenge of farming.

    • I’m a 35 year old want to be farmer, I know the world is full of people that wish and dream to own there own farm, why are all these people’s and my own dreams crushed for the sake of an investor? The people that immigrated to Saskatchewan came here to realize a dream, they saw opertunity to own an asset and not be forced to rent from land lords, that was over a 100 years ago in Europe, why are we allowing ourselves to step back in time? What’s is so wrong with encouraging the people who live here, have their families and friends here, why not have these people own their own a part of the community they live in? Let’s make it a policy that for every year a person rents an acre of farm land, the peasant takes 3 percent of that land. This ensures over time there would always be a natural and fair transition to the next generation of people who actually call Saskatchewan thier home.

  2. There is absolutely no reason for investors to be buying up farm land anywhere in the world! There has always been a plentiful supply of young farmers wanting and needing an opertunity. Finding a way to give the right people in a new generation of farmers the opertunity to get started has been a challenge for every country and every generation the world has ever seen. When young potential farmers see faceless investors buying up farm land we tend to get disheartened and move on to greener pastures mainly in oil and gas. Selling farmland to anyone other than a local farmer is like selling the heart and soul of the very country we live in. Farmers need the equity in their land for both financial and emotional attachment, at times of poor returns and times of trouble, the people that have the equity in their land and communities are the ones that create and innovate new ideas, create new technologies and prosper to new heights. Land investment is just a way to exploiting profit and pride out of the very farming communities that need it most!
    My suggestion is that for every year a piece of land is leased, 3 percent of the equity in that land should be transferred to the person that is actually doing the work, creating pride and equity for the people that produce the food all of us eat.

  3. To make a comparison to the immigrants who settled this land and this, is insulting and truly ignorant. Please remember that the people who settled this land did not come over with “deep pockets” or with a steady flow of funds from investors back home. They left EVERYTHING behind (including family) and came over with high hopes based on empty promises only to find that they had to work very hard (beyond our comprehension) clearing or prepping the land before any hope of a profit could be made. They weren’t managing established farmland or hiring locals to do the work for them. Many “lost their shirts” (and some their lives, due to the hardships of coming into an undeveloped land). Thankfully, many of those immigrants were successful and procured a future for generations of farmers to come. I’m proud to say that I and my husband are the 4th generation of one of those immigrants. We, like others are trying to carry on the “family farm” and in 14 years have struggled through the disasters that come with farming, as well as the new challenges of farming, that stem from the Canadian gov’t’s (and Canadians in general) lack of interest in maintaining the agricultural industry. We have sacrificed on a personal level to maintain and sustain the family farm. I believe the immigrants who ESTABLISHED farming in this country ( OUR ancestor’s) would be heartbroken to hear such a statement as, “step aside, stop complaining and let a whole new generation of immigrants take on the challenge of farming.” But then isn’t that a typical Canadian attitude towards anything traditional.
    I believe the idea that this is a good thing, stems from very short sightedness on behalf of the government and producers. It is impossible for local farmers to compete with the skyrocketing land prices. The only Canadians this is good for are the retiring farmers. Of course they look at it through rose colored glasses, money talks after all. For the rest of Canadians this a big step backwards and in some ways worse than that. We are heading toward those “big corporate farms” that have been predicted, only worse than that they will be owned by foreigners who will come over and snatch up a Canadian citizenship ( because it’s that easy) and who’s true loyalties lie back home with their investors. Yes, I’m sure everything is done “legally” but perhaps the existing laws aren’t good enough to protect Canada’s best interest in the long term. Perhaps the laws need to be changed to benefit those who have lived here and have contributed to the Country’s best interest for generations.
    What will happen when investor’s/foreign immigrants realize the return on their investment amounts to a hill of beans in comparison to what they have paid for it. There are a lot of legitimate questions that need to be asked and answered before you just decide to write off this generation of Canadian farmers. We may be few, but those of us who are left know what it is to put hard work, sweat and tears into the farm and get little back. We face challenges just like those of previous generations, as well as new ones, including this one. It should be pointed out that the Canadian government (and perhaps the previous generation of farmers) never had the foresight to take proper steps to procure a solid future for the next generation of farmer’s, but instead has done quite the opposite, in short sightedness and to make a big money grab in the moment. Be careful when you criticize the next generation because they are only left with the results of the choices that you have made and these choices can have repercussions for many generations to come. Unfortunately, money usually speaks louder than common sense or loyalty( is there such a thing as loyalty in Canada anymore?). If retiring farmers want to sell their land to foreigners at prices that the next generation of local farmers can’t even dream to compete with, they can. But at the very least don’t add insult to injury by kicking us when we’re already down ( those of us still trying hard to maintain our farms, and those who have tried hard) with ignorant remarks such as those made in the first post.

  4. If Saskatchewan farmers are worried about foreign investment and big corporations ruining farming, please stop voting for “business first, money talks” Conservative governments. And yes the Sask Party are just the old Conservative Party, they only changed the name after all those guys in Devine’s government went to jail for stealing taxpayers money.

  5. I hope U Canadians fight to save your farmland from foriegn Phantom Owners.
    I personally know of Ghost owners trying to buy up your precious ground.
    Im in the USA……….

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