Mega quarry land north of Toronto bought by burgeoning farm fund Bonnefield – by John Greenwood (National Post – July 18, 2013)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

A controversial plan to build a massive quarry in rolling farmland north of Toronto appears officially dead in the water after a US$20-billion hedge fund in Boston agreed to sell the land on which the project was to be located.

Bonnefield Financial, a farmland investment company based in Ottawa, announced this week that it has acquired about 6,500 acres of lush Dufferin County potato fields in what it called one of the largest farmland transactions in Canadian history.

Financial details were not disclosed however Tom Eisenhauer, the president, acknowledged the price was “more than $50-million, a lot of money.” Speaking in a phone interview, Mr. Eisenhauer insisted Bonnefield is only interested in agriculture. “Our investors want exposure to farming,” he said. “They don’t want exposure to oil and gas, or quarries for that matter.”

Formed in 2010, Bonnefield calls itself Canada’s only national farmland investment management company. Typically that involves buying up farms and leasing them back to farmers. So far it’s raised about $150-million from accredited investors, acquiring about 35,000 acres in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick.

It was about six years ago that the mega quarry proponents first began acquiring land in the fertile region about 90 minutes north of Toronto, initially putting the word out that it was for potatoes.

The area is notable for its rich soil, perfect for crop growing. But it was what was beneath the soil that had attracted Boston-based Baupost Group. Limestone, used to make what’s called aggregate in the construction trade, is in high demand in fast developing Toronto, where it’s a key ingredient in concrete used to build everything from roads, to office towers and condos.

Suspicions began to mount that Highland Companies, a Canadian group backed by Baupost, had something else in mind. In 2011 they submitted an application to the Ontario Government to build a quarry on about 2,300 hectares, sparking a wave of protest, as local farmers allied with artists and the well-heeled Bay Street types who own weekend properties in the area began to make their voices heard.

Had the project gone ahead it would have been the largest quarry in Canada covering over 2,200 acres, according to critics.

It would likely have been highly profitable, as well.

But it didn’t go ahead. At the end of 2012 Highland announced it was abandoning its plan, citing lack of government and local support. The news was cause for celebration by the coalition of opponents, but that soon turned to worry about what would happen next.

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