Statistics show foreigners not driving farmland prices sky high

Changes to the immigration rules introduced in 2002 have not resulted in a flood of foreign farm buyers

Who is buying up all the farmland in Manitoba?

Coffee shop gossip aside, statistics from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that the vast majority of farmland buyers in Manitoba are not new permanent residents. In fact, there has been barely any interest from abroad in recent years.

Gordon Gentles, a Brandon-based realtor specializing in farm properties, said that he has heard of only one Chinese buyer who recently picked up a large property on the west side of the province.

“It’s local people who are driving up land prices at the moment,” he said, adding that the buyers have tended to be large farmers expanding their holdings and Hutterite colonies.

In 2002, the creation of the self-employed farmer category of the Business Immigrant Program under the revised Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) saw a spike in approvals of foreign-born farmers and farm managers.

In 2002, 110 applications were approved Canada-wide, but that number has since dwindled to just 25 in 2011.

The year the program was launched, 15 new farmers or managers ended up in Manitoba, but since 2007, there have been anywhere from zero to less than five arrivals per year.

In Saskatchewan, there have never been more than a couple under the same program, and in most years the number was zero.

Gentles said that apart from some South African farm buyers, foreign interest from traditional farm immigration countries such as Ireland and Great Britain has dwindled due to slumping property values in some areas following the 2008 financial crisis, and less favourable currency exchange rates.

In Manitoba, foreign ownership rules limit acquisitions by non-Canadians and non-permanent residents to just 40 acres. The rules enforced by the Farmlands Ownership Board are strict, he added, so it is unlikely that anyone would attempt to skirt them.

“We always advise people to try and get permanent residency before they buy,” said Gentles.

Also, the Canadian government makes it “fairly easy” for prospective farm buyers to gain permanent residency, he added.

The changes to the IRPA may seem like a two-for-one deal: buy a farm, get a green card to boot.

But Julie Lafortune, a spokesperson from CIC, said that’s not the case.

“Although IRPA established an avenue for individuals with farm management experience to apply for PR status, it is still not an automatic process,” she wrote in an emailed response.

Prior to the rule changes, buying a farm did not guarantee an applicant would be granted PR status, but the changes opened up a path that would allow them to settle and work here on their farm operations.

“People applying for Permanent Resident status as a self-employed farmer through the Business Immigration Program must meet certain eligibility criteria in order to qualify,” she added.

Applicants must have relevant experience, the intention and the ability to become self-employed in Canada, and meet the selection criteria for self-employed persons as well as medical, security background checks.

Family members must also have a medical exam and obtain police certificates, and must be able to show that they have enough money to support themselves and their dependants after their arrival in Canada.

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