Guelph, ON (August 26, 2022) — The National Farmers Union – Ontario (NFU-O) calls on the Ontario government to immediately present, debate, and pass legislation to prevent the purchase of agricultural lands by private investment funds and pension plans.
“Agricultural land should be owned by the farmers who grow our food and not by companies that are speculating on land prices rising even higher, or seeking to increase dividends through high rents – or both – at the expense of eaters and growers alike”, urges Max Hansgen, NFU-O President.
Quebec’s Bill 991 and Alberta’s Bill 206, both tabled this spring, are valuable models for an urgently needed Ontario-specific bill that will curb farmland grabbing and keep farmland in the hands of farmers.
Quebec’s Bill 991 would prohibit the direct or indirect purchase of agricultural land by private investment funds, and would create a public registry of all agricultural land transactions to promote transparency around farmland ownership. Alberta’s Bill 206 aims at specifically prohibiting the purchase of agricultural land by private pension plans.
Like Alberta and Quebec, a large amount of agricultural land in Ontario has been purchased by private pension plans and investment funds. Large scale land grabbing coupled with growing development pressure has created a trend of unregulated land speculation which has had disastrous impacts on the socio-economic fabric of rural communities and the future of our food system.
To be provincial leaders in the prevention of agricultural land speculation, Ontario can and should go even further than the Quebec and Alberta private members’ bills by widening the scope of limitations on the purchase of agricultural lands to include all private investment funds, private pension plans, wealthy non-farming individuals, hedge-funds, and Real Estate Investment Trusts.
“We cannot afford to waste time as Ontario’s food production is in jeopardy”, continues Hansgen.
According to the 2021 Census of Agriculture, Ontario has lost an average of 319 acres of farmland every day since 2016. Land-speculation, coupled with development pressures, is among the leading causes of farmland loss. Land speculation in Ontario has driven up the prices of farmland by over 22% this past year alone, with some land selling for as much as $35,500/acre. The 2021 Ontario average of $13,813/acre is more than 43% higher than Quebec, the second most expensive province for farmland in the country. One factor making land more affordable in Quebec is legislation already in place that ensures that only Quebec residents and Quebec-owned corporations can own more than 4 hectares of farmland. To put these land prices in perspective, based on the profits of the average Ontario oilseed and grain farm in 2020, a new farm purchaser would need to cultivate the land for 50 years before they paid back the initial land purchase.
Ontario has no laws preventing farmland grabbing from foreign investors. And unlike Quebec and PEI, Ontario has no laws to limit out of province or non-farming investors from owning farmland. And unlike BC, Ontario does not protect farmland from conversion to non-farm uses. Ontario now has the opportunity to move from laggard to leader by enacting laws that will set the stage for future agricultural prosperity by preventing farmland grabbing by investment companies.
Without a law to halt land grabbing by farmland investment companies Ontario’s farmers are on the way to becoming little more than fieldhands to wealthy absentee owners whose priority is making money for themselves. Our once flourishing agricultural communities are being driven into poverty as the new generation of farmers is priced out of the picture, and an increasing amount of the remaining farmers’ production must go to pay rent and/or interest just so they can stay on the land.
“Keeping farmland out of the hands of investors is the first step toward attaining real food security. Legislation to prevent farmland grabbing would further the provincial mandate of the Local Food Act (2013) to foster successful and resilient local food economies and systems throughout Ontario”, adds Brendan Grant, NFU-O Vice President.
The NFU-O not only supports the currently proposed Alberta and Quebec private members’ bills, but calls on the Ontario Government to step up and show itself as a champion of farmers and a leader of farmland protection in Canada by enacting stringent legislation preventing all forms of investor farmland speculation in our province.
For more information:
Max Hansgen, President, National Farmers Union–Ontario
[email protected], (613) 464-1251