NFU releases major report on land ownership and farm debt - "Losing Our Grip - 2015 Update"

(March 10, 2015, Saskatoon) – The National Farmers Union (NFU) has released a major new report, Losing Our Grip - 2015 Update, which revisits and expands upon the information and analysis of corporate farmland buy-up, farm debt and input financing published by the NFU in 2010. The update was undertaken to provide a well-documented assessment of increasing corporate control of farmland and the acceleration of farm debt, now approaching $80 billion. This report will allow farmers, the general public and policy-makers to critically examine the ownership concentration process and the financial mechanisms that facilitate them. The report concludes with a series of policy recommendations to reclaim farmer autonomy and food sovereignty.

 “Young farmers face a double-whammy when it comes to getting started,” said Matt Gehl, NFU Region 6 (Saskatchewan) Board member. “We not only have to compete with pension funds and other huge institutional investors in the land market, we also face huge life-time debt loads to pay for land and equipment. Without laws that seriously control these land-investment companies and agriculture policy that supports decent farm livelihoods, Canada is going to lose its next generation of farmers and end up with something like the serfdom many of our ancestors tried to escape.”

“We know that land is the foundation of our culture and social fabric, and here in Prince Edward Island we’ve been able to limit the amount of land owned by  big Canadian companies and  off-shore bargain hunters,” said Reg Phelan, NFU Region 1 (Maritimes) Board member. “We’ve had to push back against the corporations to protect our land, but the fact that we’ve got a good land protection law now shows that it can be done.”

“Canadians want family farmers to produce our food and to have the autonomy to do it in a way that supports their communities and takes care of the land for future generations. Without better farm policy and laws with real teeth, absentee landlords seeking to make the highest possible return for their shareholders will be calling the shots, and the work of farming will be done by low-paid seasonal employees or farmers forced to lease land, making it difficult for them to make long-term investments to care for the land,” said Jan Slomp, NFU President. “We are calling for policies, programs and laws that will ensure that Canada’s farmland is under the control of local farmers, which is one of the key elements of food sovereignty.”

Losing Our Grip – 2015 Update profiles several companies that have been buying up farmland since 2010, including Bonnefield Financial, Assiniboia Capital, Agcapita, Walton International and AGInvest Canada, highlighting their financial strategies. The report examines the current situations of Nilsson Bros. Inc, One Earth Farms and Broadacre, which in 2010 were acquiring large tracts of land as part of their corporate growth strategy. The report summarizes provincial farmland ownership laws, noting progress (Quebec) and setbacks (British Columbia) and that Saskatchewan is now reviewing its law in light of public concern about investment company purchases. Losing Our Grip – 2015 Update also delves into the relationship between accelerating total farm debt, farmland investment companies, lending by input companies and federal agricultural policy. Excessive debt levels restrict farmer autonomy and are a significant barrier to young and new farmers. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to implement a more just system of land ownership and move Canada towards food sovereignty.

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For more information:

Matt Gehl, NFU Region 6 (Saskatchewan) Board member: (306) 216-6064

Reg Phelan, NFU Region 1 (Maritimes) Board member:  (902) 961-2428

Jan Slomp, NFU President: (403) 843-2068 or (403) 704-4364 (cell)

Report: Losing Our Grip - 2015 Update