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Sheldon Zou, wife Linda Liu and their daughters Jennifer and Angela on their land outside of Ogema, Sask. (MARK TAYLOR FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Sheldon Zou, wife Linda Liu and their daughters Jennifer and Angela on their land outside of Ogema, Sask. (MARK TAYLOR FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Seed capital: How immigrants are reshaping Saskatchewan's farmland Add to ...

Mr. Dearborn added that MaxCrop is not as interested in land ownership so much as sharing what the land produces with local farmers. The company wants to partner with farmers, get them to invest in MaxCrop, and then work together to produce crops for China. “If you look at the bigger picture, China is the largest commodity buyer in the world. ... For me as a farmer to do this on my own, is really, really difficult. I need partners who understand the language and the nuance. And that’s where this partnership is really coming to fruition,” he said. The company hopes to produce niche products, he added, such as lentils and malt barley, which can be processed and shipped via container to Asia.

Mr. Dearborn is well aware of the concerns about Chinese immigrants buying up farmland. “I don’t see this as any different from what my great grandparents did,” he said noting that his family has been farming in the province for more than 100 years. He dismissed suggestions that MaxCrop’s investors are fronts for buyers in China, saying MaxCrop wants to partner with local farmers, not supplant them. While he has heard some complaints about MaxCrop, the reception has been generally positive “except for a few xenophobic cranky pants.”

“Race and ethnicity should never be a punishment in this country for commercial enterprise as far as I am concerned,” he added. “I think that is a Canadian value.”

Mr. Zou who is not a MaxCrop client, has heard the concerns as well but is convinced people will adjust. “In a couple of years they are probably going to feel more comfortable,” he said. He pointed to his friend Ms. Jin, who runs the Rolling Hills Restaurant with her family and has been embraced by the community, many of whom have helped her learn English.

“Recruiting more immigrants is a good thing,” he added. “I think there’s a benefit for everyone.”

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FARMING FACTS

Output:

Over the past 15 years, real agricultural output increased 30 per cent while employment in agriculture declined 26 per cent. Canada’s real agricultural output is on track to increase 7.5 per cent this year. Producers are also shifting toward higher-return products other than wheat that are of high demand in developed economies. Canadian growers also benefited from a major U.S. drought this summer.

Income:

Average total income of farm families, which includes other income, was $118,970 in 2011 and is projected to reach $123,498 in 2012. It was $106,894 in 2010 and averaged $97,331 between 2006 and 2010. Average net worth per farm is expected to reach $1.7-million in 2012.

Impact of the dollar:

Since the Canadian dollar began its ascent in 2002, the volume of agri-food imports has increased by 64 per cent while the volume of exports has gone up just 14 per cent.

FARMLAND OWNERSHIP RULES:

B.C.: No restriction on foreign ownership. Some of the richest farmland is governed by the Agriculture Land Reserve

Alberta: Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Canadian-controlled companies can own more than 20 acres of farmland.

Saskatchewan: Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and 100-per-cent Canadian-owned companies can own more than 10 acres.

Manitoba: Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and Canadian-controlled companies can own more than 40 acres of farmland.

Ontario: No restrictions on foreign ownership.

Quebec: Non residents (people who have lived in the province for less than a year) must get permission to buy farmland from the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole du Québec.

New Brunswick: No restrictions on foreign ownership.

Nova Scotia: No restrictions on foreign ownership

PEI: Non-residents must get permission from the government to buy more than five acres.

Newfoundland and Labrador: No restrictions on foreign ownership.

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