Manitobans will have to jump through different hoops to access Crown lands for haying or grazing this year.
The province announced an end to the old points-based system in December, to be replaced by a tendering system similar to how cropped Crown lands were already leased.
Changes will be in place for the next round of Crown land leases. The new regulation came into force Jan. 1, although Manitoba Agriculture says it is still consulting stakeholders on what policies will be needed to support the new framework. The province plans to have everything in place when the next list of available Crown lands is released in fall 2018.
Manitoba Beef Producers, producer voice for one of the industries expected to feel the most impact, generally welcomed the change.
The province has promised a more open system under tendering, something MBP president Ben Fox says will solve a standing concern for farmers.
“The biggest cause of frustration right now is the points system and, basically, the overall inability to really see how lands are allocated,” Fox said. “As far as MBP’s concerned, having an increased transparency in that process is a big win.”
Under the points system, producers were given credit for forage and land management, herd size, non-farm income, age, first-time applicants, proximity and distance to the Crown lands applied for. Applicants with the highest points were awarded the lease. According to the Crown Lands and Property Agency, however, those points might be ignored if the highest-points applicant was not “the logical user.”
Under cropping leases, the system that forage and pasture Crown lands will now mirror, the names of all bidders and their tenders can be reviewed.
But while Manitoba Beef Producers has lauded the change, producers themselves are still waiting to gauge the final impact.
“Nobody seems to know what is actually going to happen yet,” Kim Crandall, a beef producer from Winnipegosis and former MBP director, said.
The province has tied the overhaul to Manitoba’s obligations under the New West Trade Partnership, a free trade agreement spanning British Columbia through the Prairies.
Canadians from other provinces must be eligible to lease Manitoba Crown lands as part of the deal, according to a Manitoba Agriculture spokesperson.
“This change has created an opportunity to modernize the existing regulations, creating more clear and consistent requirements for all agricultural Crown lands – haying, grazing, or cropping via lease or permit,” they said.
Premier Brian Pallister made the New West Trade Partnership a talking point leading up to his 2016 electoral win.
His new majority government checked the trade deal off its list of campaign promises that fall. Manitoba officially signed on to the deal in November 2016, with membership starting Jan. 1, 2017.
With all Crown lands administered under the same system, the province has also tied lease changes to red-tape reduction, another main point of their term thus far.
The trade deal adds another layer to MBP’s support. The group has been a vocal supporter of Manitoba joining the New West Trade Partnership.
“I think any time that we can open up borders, be it internationally or interprovincially, it’s going to be a boon for the industry and being able to trade with our other Prairie provinces is going to help out the ranchers’ bottom line, most definitely,” Fox said.
Critics have argued that removing the points system also removes needed supports for new producers.
In December, NDP Leader Wab Kinew said tendering Crown lands might drive up price and put young farmers at a disadvantage.
The points system gave more weight to young producers or producers with fewer cattle, Fox said, but added that he sees no problem with opening the process up to tender. Likewise, he dismissed concerns that a tendering process might make land prices unaffordable.
“I think the best, simplest, most open and transparent system is using the free market system and I think that it’s something that people will be able to recognize and see what land is valued at and hopefully bid accordingly,” he said.
Fox previously tagged affordable land access as a topic MBP hoped to bring up with government.
Manitoba Agriculture says new farmers will still enter into the discussion as the system is laid out.
“Young farmers are a key component in farm succession and successful industry,” the department said over email. “As part of our discussions with stakeholders, we will be considering what policies might support and encourage young producers to use Manitoba’s agricultural Crown lands.”
MBP will consult with the province as the new system goes forward, Fox said.
The group would like to see informed access added to the list of changes, something Fox says would give producers more biosecurity control. Fox added that he would also like to see more assurances on land use to make sure land slated for livestock remains grazed.