Canadian Farmland At Risk

Canadian Farmland at Risk of Being Ploughed Under
In a recent article in the October 19, 2010 edition of Ontario Farmer, written by Canadian agrologist, farm columnist and director of Canada's largest credit union Wendy Holm, she warns about realities facing the Canadian farmer and farming worldwide. Ms. Holm suggests in her article that by mid-century, the world population will grow to about 9 billion from today's 6.9 billion, at a time when the world continues to consume more than it produces (grain reserves for instance were at 111 days just 10 years ago and are now at 54 days). She goes on to say that the World Bank foresees world demand for food increasing by 50 per cent by 2030 and that grain producers will have to double their outputs in the next 40 years to keep up with beef demands by higher income consumers (China now consumes 4 times more beef than it did just 25 years ago).

What is even more alarming, according to Holm's article, is that these increases are occurring when the global ratio of arable land per person has dropped by half since the 1970s, the demand for bio-fuel has tripled and we consume 4% more water than we replenish. So, asks Holm, where will our food come from and according to her information, large investors are looking at food as the "new plastic." She says that the "game plan" on the part of these global investors is that once they control our fertile farmland, they control the future. Holm cites a survey by the World Bank that "reports 45 million hectares of large-scale holdings changed hands in 2009, compared with an average of 4 million hectares changing hands between 1998 and 2008." And, says Holm, "this is only the beginning." She suggests that if Canadians want to retain control of their own food production, then we must find a way to support and invest in our farmers. Holm argues that "farm lenders in Canada should be working together" to help Canadian farmers survive against serious challenges.

The following demographic is the purchaser or investor profile as described in Holm's article:

"In California, foreign buyers are from Spain, Switzerland, China, Egypt and Iran and they also have their sights set on the U.S. Midwest, Texas, Mississippi, Idaho and the Dakotas."

"Hundreds of millions of hectares are being bought in sub-Saharan Africa, Central and Latin America and Eastern Europe, by foreign interests from the Gulf States, China, Japan, South Korea and Western Europe."

More recently, Holm suggests, foreign investment in farmland is also focused on "two other countries that have good infrastructure, government, farmland and relatively low land prices: Canada and Australia." Holm believes that "in two to three years, when interest rates rise, many carrying heavy debt loads will exit the sector. Left standing will be the foreign investors." Finally, Ms. Holm concludes, "There are structural changes occurring in Canada's farm sector. We need to work together to find ways to reduce the impact on farmers and food security, not attack each other in a turf war that no one can win." Innovative partnerships and collaboration, not competition among Canadian lenders, are the keys to the future in farm lending, Ms. Holm says, and can lead to new relationships that can help protect Canada's food security, farmland and farming communities.

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