Saskatchewan residents tell consultation ‘no’ to foreign-owned farms

Nearly nine out of every 10 people who responded to a Saskatchewan government survey say they don't want the province's farmland to end up in foreign hands.

REGINA — Nearly nine out of every 10 people who responded to a Saskatchewan government survey say they don’t want the province’s farmland to end up in foreign hands.

Eighty-seven per cent of the more than 3,200 people who responded to a farmland ownership consultation say they don’t support foreign ownership of Saskatchewan farmland.

Seventy-five per cent also say they’re opposed to allowing investors such as Canadian pension funds to purchase farmland in Saskatchewan.

The issue of who can own farmland in Saskatchewan has prompted a spirited debate that was sparked after the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board started buying up farms in 2013.

The rules currently don’t allow institutional investors to own Saskatchewan farmland and limit foreign ownership to four hectares, but the investment board’s structure made it eligible.

The vast majority of people who took part in the consultations — 95 per cent — were Saskatchewan residents and 62 per cent of respondents were farmers.

Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart says the results will ensure the government makes decisions for the long-term success and sustainability of the province’s agriculture industry.

Stewart says the next steps will be announced later this fall.

The agriculture minister said in August that Saskatchewan won’t impose restrictions on Canadians who want to buy farms in the province, but he wouldn’t rule out anything else as the government looks at the laws on farmland ownership.

Farmers have raised concerns about loopholes they say allow a variety of investors to drive up rents and farmland prices in the province.

In their submission to the consultations, the National Farmers Union said that under today’s laws, Canadian-owned investment companies are legally buying up farmland, a trend it says has turned Saskatchewan landowners into tenant farmers.

The union has called for changes that would allow only Saskatchewan residents or incorporated farming operations owned by Saskatchewan residents to own farmland.