Beef producers want to roll land improvement costs into what people are bidding for when Agricultural Crown Lands come up for auction.
In late 2019, the province said it would no longer be in the business of buying land improvements when a lease rolls over, one of a swath of changes made to the Agricultural Crown Lands leasing program.
Crown lands emerged as one of the leading issues during the recent Manitoba Beef Producers annual meeting Feb. 6-7 in Brandon. Lease changes formed the basis of fully half of the 42 resolutions put forward.
The new regulations, in general, have caused consternation among forage and grazing leaseholders. Among their complaints, ranchers have protested a new rental formula which would raise rates, as well as lack of unit transfers (which the province says producers were using to inflate private land values but that producers argue are critical for ranch value and retirement plans) and shorter, 15-year terms (which the province argues will keep land in circulation, but producers argue removes certainty).
Land improvement costs, however, have also found their way into the crosshairs. Under the new regulations, outgoing leaseholders have 30 days to remove improvements. If the lease is picked up by a new leaseholder within two years, the old leaseholder will have to negotiate the price they are owed for those improvements. If the two parties don’t agree within 30 days, the matter turns to arbitration.
Ranchers have protested that the system will create conflict between the outgoing and incoming leaseholders, while others have argued that removing improvements like fenceline is impractical during the winter, when those leases would turn over.
The Manitoba Beef Producers wants the province to step back from its stance.
Members asked MBP to lobby government to base bids on, “an agreed-upon, predetermined price of improvements (less the administration fee).”
“If somebody gives up some Crown lands and somebody else bids on it, for one, they should know ahead of time what they’re bidding on,” Mary Paziuk of Ethelbert said.
The resolution caused some debate among ranchers.
Shelley Dyck of Ste. Rose du Lac asked who would be determining the value of those improvements, pointing to her own recent experience with provincial Crown lands staff.
Dyck says she was told her fences were worth $1,000 a mile, but that her cross-fencing was old and would not add any value and that her dugouts might be worth $500 each.
It was unclear who might end up making that value determination.
Ramona Blyth of MacGregor, meanwhile, urged producers to take their inspiration from the previous Crown lands system.
“I think we are getting too excited about this,” she said, pointing to previous lease turnovers under the points system, wherein she argued that negotiations prior to the turnover had already set out the cost of improvements.
Under the previous system, she said, outgoing leaseholders worked with Crown lands staff to help put a value on those improvements.
“I agree with this motion, but I think we need to let calmness prevail,” she said. “Yes, this needs to happen, but it needs to happen the way it did prior to the new changes coming in.”
Other MBP resolutions would reinstitute an eligibility cap for Crown land forage leases — albeit at a higher level — change the rental formula, create a new fund to promote land improvements on Crown lands, increase allowable fenceline widths, and continue to push for changes on unit transfers and rights of renewal.