What might be Western Canada’s largest operating farm sale took place late last week.
At $26.5 million, producer Sam Rey has chosen to take his profits from nine years of farming and leave the business.
Miner Creek Farms started when the Swiss immigrant began buying farmland near Tisdale, Sask.
In 2007, unlike many parts of the world, farmland prices on the Canadian Prairies had reflected agricultural commodity price margins, without much room for speculation. Average margins for the previous 15 years were running below $35 per acre and there was little incentive to bid beyond a straight return on land, which was renting at the time for less than $45 per acre.
It was the right time to invest in a farm, but Rey didn’t know that.
He also didn’t know that over the course of the next two years margins would increase eightfold and give him the ability to leverage his new assets into a much larger operation, eventually reaching 7,871 acres.
“I took big chances, but I had a lot of passion for building a beautiful, big farm,” he said.
“I am the last of 13 generations of farmers. My kids don’t seem headed that way, so it was time to move on,” said the 58-year-old producer, his voice choked with emotion, a week after handing over the keys.
“The kids were starting to pursue their own lives. It was the love of my life and time to pass it on to someone else who loves it, too.”
Rey acquired nearly contiguous fields, with 42 quarters touching one another, and built an 830,000-bushel grain handling system that would rival the capacity of older grain elevators, on a farmyard with three homes, large shop facilities and machinery storage.
Capping off the farmyard is a new 4,000 sq. foot home.
“It is one of the nicest farms you will find anywhere,” said Ted Cawkwell, the real estate broker who sold the property.
Average farm income doubled between 2007 and 2014. Land price increases along those lines have also taken place, with Saskatchewan seeing back to back jumps of 20, 22 and 19 percent, according to Statistics Canada and Farm Credit Canada.
However, selling a larger farm as a whole operating entity with machinery and a crop in the field proved challenging. After two years, the farm remained unsold at an asking price of $27 million.
“When I got the listing earlier this year, we began looking further afield. We advertised globally, and got inquiries from South Africa to the Netherlands,” Cawkwell said.
In the end it was an Alberta Hutterite colony that bought the property, after seeing it in a newspaper ad.
The colony, located between Lethbridge and the American border, had plans to build another community and decided to consider the Tisdale property when it noticed it was for sale.
The colony said it will not publicly comment on the new farm, but added it is looking forward to having the operating enterprise to work with rather than starting from scratch.
At nearly 900 kilometres from home, it wasn’t handy to the group’s current location, but the rolling, stone-free loam and large land base was an incentive.
“They made many visits to the farm, brought out a lot of their folks to visit it and get opinions,” Cawkwell said. “It’s a big choice to make, moving 80 or so people and starting a new venture.”
Rey said the new Miner Creek colony will carry on “my vision of what a prairies farm can be.”