Financialization and consolidation of farmland in Manitoba: interrogating the "good farmer"

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Bihun, Hannah
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On the Canadian prairies, farmland is more than just an investment or a resource; access and control over farmland is deeply embedded in the history, culture, and identity of Canadian farmers. Land grabbing, the large-scale purchase of farmland by domestic or foreign investors, is a phenomenon on the rise worldwide and is best understood within the framework of financialization. Despite a lack of quantitative research on the topic, some of the effects of financialization in the agri-food sector are visible in Manitoba, including rising farmland prices and increasing farmland concentration, resulting in fewer and larger farms. My research investigates the dynamics of farmland ownership in four rural municipalities with high valued farmland in Manitoba. Although reliable information about farmland investment in Manitoba is limited, 39 semi-structured interviews with farmers, rural municipal officials and staff, and others involved in the agriculture industry, provide a baseline understanding of the current dimensions of farmland sales, farmer-landlord relationships, and the social and environmental implications of increasing farmland concentration. I draw on participants’ perceptions of investors to better understand how these kinds of purchases might impact rural landscapes. Furthermore, I find that farmers themselves have adopted financial logics as they make land purchases that are less rooted in the productive value of the land and increasingly motivated by the speculative value of the land. Thus, my research reveals the ways that the ‘good farmer’ framework is at work in Manitoba and is pushing farmers to make “non-economically rational” (as cited in Burton et al., 2020, p.2) decisions that are ultimately contributing to the deterioration of rural communities and environments. The thesis concludes by discussing two pathways for the future of agriculture in Manitoba: the first is that these trends will deepen and access to land and control over food production will be further extracted from the hands of local people. The second is a more hopeful possibility that farmers, civil society, and government might co-construct a different future in agriculture by redefining what it means to be a ‘good farmer’ and prioritizing community, collaboration, and profitable/viable farm businesses.
Manitoba, Agriculture, Farmland tenure, Farmland concentration, Financialization, Rural communities