An uncertain future for Québec's food pantry?
Updated: Feb 27
In recent months, the meteoric rise in Québec's residential real estate prices has made headlines. While this surge in the residential market seems to be showing signs of slowing, as evidenced by the drastic drop in real estate sales observed in January, the reality in the agricultural sector is very different. Less publicized, but just as glaring, is the fact that access to farmland in the province is becoming increasingly difficult, forcing many aspiring farmers to put their dreams on hold.
Soaring prices are placing Québec farmland increasingly out of reach
While economic impacts of Russia's invasion of Ukraine have likely contributed to the runaway rise in Québec farmland prices, this was not the starting point of the problem. In fact, the province’s farmland values have been steadily escalating for more than 35 years. According to figures published by Farm Credit Canada, cumulative increases in Québec farmland prices have amounted to nearly 250% over the last 10 years, including a substantial 10% increase in 2021 alone.
While these dizzying price increases may have many causes, the monopolization of agricultural land has been particularly notable in recent years. Speculators and investors have been engaging in mass purchases of farmland, not with the aim of operating an agricultural facility, but in the hope of either reselling the land at a higher price or getting it rezoned to allow for the construction of residential or commercial units.
At this point, one thing has become clear: Unless you inherit family farmland, starting a profitable agriculture business is no longer possible in Québec. At their current prices, most of the province’s farmlands have simply exceeded their profitability potential. This harsh but undeniable reality is enough to send shivers down the spines of the next generation of Québec farmers.
What’s at stake?
Farming makes up an integral portion of Québec's economy. In total, about 5% of its territory is devoted to agriculture, or 6.3 million hectares. Agricultural activity generates $9.1 billion in annual revenue for the province, an impressive amount for a population of 8 million people. The sector’s nearly 30,000 farms and more than 42,000 farmers not only feed Québec and the rest of Canada, but many other regions of the world as well: Québec pork, for instance, is exported to more than 80 countries.
Limited solutions for now
For the time being, few concrete options seem available to reverse the trend of farmlands becoming increasingly inaccessible to Québec farmers. While the phenomenon of land grabbing is a complex one, and the legal and regulatory levers to curb it seem limited, the Québec government will have to seriously address the issue sooner rather than later. Otherwise, food autonomy, a concept dear to Quebecers of all political stripes, could be in jeopardy.