Ottawa throws a wrench into pasture transfers— equipment can’t be ‘gifted’

A last-minute disinheritance of former PFRA pasture equipment has derailed the transition plan, but 
officials say all pastures will be available next year

Confusion over the exact meaning of “divestiture” has thrown a wrench into what just a few months ago appeared to be a smooth transfer of Manitoba’s 10 community pastures from federal management to local associations.

The steering committee of the Association of Manitoba Community Pastures (AMCP) had counted on inheriting the tractors, pickup trucks, ATVs, watering systems, windmills, and post-pounders that were being used at the former PFRA pastures for free.

“Now we’re being told that the other departments in the federal government say you can’t just ‘gift’ it, and because it was public dollars, it has to be tendered,” Manitoba Beef Producers president Trevor Atchison said at the recent District 6 meeting.

“I shouldn’t use the word ‘excuse,’ but that’s the terminology. So, yeah, they did kind of throw us for a loop.”

Under the original model, factors such as depreciation were accounted for, but not the need to purchase equipment outright, added Atchison, who sits on the AMCP steering committee.

With the transition plan derailed, and the managers of five pastures already laid off as of the end of October and the other five set to go by March, the only good news for community pasture clients is that the province has stepped in with assurances that the gates will be open next spring.

“The province has given us assurances that it will operate in a similar fashion as it did this year,” said Atchison, who added details have yet to be hammered out.

“It’s been a little bit of a shock. But once we are operating all the pastures, there will be a level of income, so we’ll have some room.”

In a presentation on the progress of the transition, MBP manager Cam Dahl noted pending provincial legislation that would place a $5,000 rebate cap for the school tax on agricultural lands is an additional concern.

“We have been assured by the government of Manitoba that there will be grazing on those pastures available to the patrons that had animals on there last year in 2014,” said Dahl, who added Agriculture Minister Ron Kostyshyn had personally made that pledge.

Details are being worked out under a revised business plan for all the pastures, said Gerald Huebner, director of GO teams for Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Although movable equipment is being tendered or returned to government surplus, “fixed” assets such as pumps, corral panels, loading and squeeze chutes are all being left behind.

“There will certainly be some things required by the program in time, but they don’t make hay or feed bulls over the winter, so some things are not needed to the degree that they were at one time,” said Huebner.

“They were wanting way too much money for all that stuff anyways.”

A variety of options exists, he added. Tractors, trucks and trailers could be rented or leased when needed, or in a pinch, borrowed from a patron.

“There is a plan, and all the pastures will be available next year,” he said.

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