The Saskatchewan government is seeking the public’s input regarding foreign investment in the province’s farmland.
Up until Aug. 10, Saskatchewan farmers and residents are being encouraged to complete a survey online or on paper that will offer their views on the controversial issue. But it hasn’t taken long for the New Democratic Party in Lloydminster to take its stance.
“The number of farmers is diminishing anyway and the farms are getting larger and larger, so that would mean more people renting, because the foreign investors aren’t going to come in and farm it necessarily,” said John Vinek, member of the Lloydminster NDP executive. “More (local) farmers will become tenant farmers.”
As recently as in 2014, over 837,000 acres of farmland were owned by outside investors, a monumental increase from the nearly 52,000 acres of farmland owned by foreign investors in 2002.
Vinek says that the increase has included over 115,000 acres of farmland that were purchased indirectly by the Canada Pension Plan, which managed to exploit a loophole in the Saskatchewan Farm Security Act. The legislation prohibited the Canada Pension Plan from investing in farmland due to an unfair tax advantage over local farmers.
“The Canada Pension Plan didn’t buy it directly, it was the board above it that manages the Canada Pension Plan that ended up being able to buy it,” said Vinek.
As farmland values have increased rapidly in recent years, so too has the debate over foreign investment in the province’s farmland.
Under current ownership rules, non-Canadians and non-100-per-cent Canadian owned entities can own no more than 10 acres of Saskatchewan farmland.
Public response from the survey will be used for potential amendments to the Saskatchewan Farm Security Act, which was last revised in 2002.
While many residents would welcome more strict foreign investment rules in the province’s farmland, Vinek acknowledged that outside investment can present certain positive outcomes.
“When times were quite tough and grain prices were low, what was happening was some people were up against the wall,” he said. “They may have sold their land to an investor and rented it back, so they still were in the business of farming.”
However, those anecdotes often led to other problems, he adds.
“The problem is, they rarely ever get a chance to buy it back. Once it goes to the investor, it’s usually traded again among investors.”
The Farmland Ownership in Saskatchewan survey can be accessed online at www.saskatchewan.ca/farmland and paper copies may be requested by calling 1-866-457-2377.