Land ownership | Management business hopes to spark investment, land ownership and build the Chinese community
ST. LAURENT, Man. — The farm on Stony Ridge Road, about 75 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, looks like a typical farmyard in Western Canada.
It has a large barn with faded red paint, a silver granary, a white Ford truck parked in front of the house and even a large yellow dog that likes to chase cars.
Amidst all those ordinary details, on a hot afternoon in late August a visual element stood out. Two red flags flew near the farm’s driveway: The Maple Leaf and the five stars of the Chinese flag.
Howard Yong, a Chinese entrepreneur who immigrated to Manitoba last year and is now a permanent resident, owns the 320 acre farm east of St. Laurent.
Yong has been busy since his arrival, partnering with two University of Manitoba graduates, both of Chinese descent, to form a company called WYNN Agricultural Investment Management Ltd.
The partners have ambitious plans to create a network of Chinese owned farms near St. Laurent on the east side of Lake Manitoba.
“Our goal is to set up a special region, to set up a Chinese agricultural community,” said Will Yue, WYNN president and a University of Manitoba economics graduate, who previously worked as a business consultant for Chinese clients in Canada.
“If we go to cattle and grain together … maybe 100,000 acres. Or maybe bigger than that,” Yue said.
“We cannot say that in five to 10 years that we can achieve it, but that is our target.”
Yong, Yue and Jane Zhang, the company’s administrative director, shared their ambitious plan while sitting around a board table in an anteroom of Yong’s farmhouse near St. Laurent.
Since forming WYNN Agricultural Investment Management earlier this year, they have helped Chinese clients buy five cattle farms in the area, for a total of 3,000 acres.
However, they’re not satisfied with that progress because they were planning to have 10 or 20 farms by this time.
“We hope it can be faster than this. There is really a lot of Chinese investors, they are very interested in farms,” said Yue, who is from Hubei province in China and has permanent resident status in Canada.
“But we have to do more extensive promotions and marketing (of our services).”
The partners want to help Chinese investors interested in buying Canadian land and farms.
Yue said they are targeting three categories of investors:
- Chinese immigrants who live in Canada and have experience in the ag industry. For those who would like to run a farm but aren’t familiar with local regulations and struggle with English.
This summer WYNN helped a Chinese couple who worked at the Maple Leaf Foods slaughter plant in Brandon buy a cattle farm near St. Laurent.
“They have taken possession of the farm already,” said Yong, who spoke in Mandarin while Yue translated.
“They just wanted to change their lifestyle and work for themselves…. And we helped them achieve their goal.”
- Chinese-Canadians who don’t want to live on a farm but view agriculture and land ownership as an investment opportunity.
“Most of them are living in Toronto, Vancouver … Quebec.
“For this group, we help them hire the people they need (to operate the farm),” Yue said.
- Chinese investors who want to own a piece of Canada’s agriculture industry.
“Like an agricultural fund,” Yue said. “This way it will be a lot easier for investors, from all over the world, to buy the fund.
“They own the fund and we use the fund to run the business.”
Yong became intrigued by the potential of Canadian agriculture in 2010 when he visited Manitoba for an exploratory visit.
Yong, who now lives in Winnipeg with his family, used to own a 500 head dairy herd in Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing. He also operated a company that produced milk, yogurt and other dairy products.
One of the stops on his exploratory trip was St. Laurent.
“(I) came to St. Laurent and saw (it) was cattle country,” he said, sitting at the board table while geese, turkeys, llamas and sheep meandered within fenced in areas outside.
He said he also chose St. Laurent because cattle land in Manitoba’s Interlake is relatively cheap compared to farmland in other parts of the province.
Although he had experience with dairy cattle, Yong realized that proposition was too expensive in Canada.
“(A) beef farm in the beginning costs less money than dairy,” he said.
“The other important factor is that beef consumption in China is (expanding). It is increasing dramatically every year.”
As of August, the five Chinese-owned farms are running 200 cows near St. Laurent. Yue admitted it is a small herd by Canadian standards, but WYNN has been in business for only a few months.
Looking ahead a few years, Yue envisions a scenario where Chinese permanent residents of Canada or Chinese people with Canadian citizenship own dozens of farms near St. Laurent. The farms would be independently owned but part of an integrated agricultural operation.
“It’s not just the cattle business. We are also planning… (to) combine cattle, grain and feedlot and also a slaughter plant and exporting beef to China.”
Yue said Manitoba could be attractive to Chinese immigrants because many of them have experience in agriculture or are interested in farming and it’s nearly impossible to establish a large farm in China.
“It’s a totally different story. We don’t own land,” said Yue, explaining that Chinese farmers have an arrangement comparable to a lease agreement with the government.
“You have land but you can’t own it permanently. Only for 60 years.”
Zhang, who became a partner in WYNN Agricultural Investment Management this summer and has lived on Yong’s farm for a couple of months, said she joined the company because she sees the potential of exporting beef to China.
However, the idea of living in rural Manitoba was also appealing.
“I really like to live in the countryside. I’m really enjoying my life right now,” said Zhang, who previously lived in Winnipeg while studying food science at the University of Manitoba.
If it all works out, Zhang would like her parents, who are teachers in China, to join her in rural Canada.
“The other dream for me is I want to purchase a small farm for my parents. My dad would really like to live like this.”