High commodity and livestock prices are pushing the demand for prime agriculture land in Southern Alberta, and fueling interest in investments both by producers and non-farmers alike.
"We've never seen anything like this. It's like the land rush all over," says veteran realtor Ben Van Dyk, a senior agent with Farm & Ranch by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate.
Van Dyk says the demand for prime irrigated agricultural land is being pushed not only by specialty crop producers, but also the livestock industry, which is enjoying good times economically.
"The livestock industry pays very strong prices for land," explains Van Dyk, who says irrigated land can now sell for between $5,000 and $8,000 per acre in the prime agricultural corridor along Highway 3 between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
Some parcels are being snapped up by investors who would rather rent land out than leave their money in the bank, says Van Dyk.
The local irrigation belt, including land north of the Oldman River, offers some of the richest agricultural land in Canada. It's served primarily by four different irrigation districts, which convey water through a maze of canals and pipelines to what would otherwise be semi-arid scrubland in the worst dry years.
While row crop producers such as potato growers have long had an influence on land prices in the Lethbridge-Taber region, there's also relatively new demand coming from canola seed producers looking for the best land and locations.
As well, better crop science and genetically modified species have helped individual producers grow larger, higher-yielding crops.
"The demand is very strong. There is not enough land available to satisfy the buyers," says Van Dyk, who describes some parcels attracting more than a dozen offers when they hit the market.