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Crown Land changes outrage Manitoba ranchers

Tension was high in the Ste. Rose du Lac community hall Oct. 2 during a last-minute meeting of forage and grazing Crown Land leaseholders

Ranchers in the Parkland and Interlake say they are worried that changes to the province’s Agricultural Crown Lands regulations will cost them their farms.

It was standing room only at the community hall in Ste. Rose du Lac Oct. 2 as over 350 leaseholders came to express their outrage over incoming regulations.

The new regulations, announced Sep. 27, shortened lease terms from 50 years to 15, removed unit transfers (except in the case of family transfers), cemented allocation by open auction and changed forage and grazing rent values to reflect cattle markets, among other changes.

Ranchers argue that the shortened lease and auction system create a continual lack of certainty and make it difficult to invest, since they will be fighting to outbid all comers every 15 years.

Some farms will have most of their land base up for auction when the newly shortened lease terms end.

Over 350 outraged producers flocked to Ste. Rose du Lac Oct. 2 for a last minute lease holders’ meeting after the province released incoming changes to Agricultural Crown Lands regulations.
photo: Alexis Stockford

Brent Benson of Lake Winnipegosis described the system as a constantly renewing countdown clock, in which the entire future of a farm is left in limbo every 15 years. The allowance for family transfers is of little comfort when most of the land he relies on could be suddenly swept out from under his feet if he can’t outbid the competition, he said.

About 95 per cent of his farm is Crown Lands. Benson had plans to improve his rotational grazing and fencing on the land, but those plans have since been scrapped.

“I’m not going to risk tens of thousands of dollars in order to make it nice for someone to take it from me,” he said. “That would be an insane investment. No bank would lend me money to do that kind of a thing.”

Mel and Rae Huber are also less than impressed with the changes. The couple moved to Manitoba from Saskatchewan in 2015 specifically to expand their ranch. The pair purchased a parcel of previous Crown Land for a home quarter, and then expanded the remaining 93 per cent of their current land base with Crown Land leases.

“We pretty much set this thing up from scratch just for the opportunity to give it away, basically. So it’s not what I call uplifting… our son just moved here a few days ago thinking that he could come here to continue doing what we were doing when we were ready to retire and now it doesn’t look like that,” Mel Huber said.

Ranchers are calling for first right of refusal to be added to the regulations. The ability to jump the line at the end of a 15-year term will be critical in adding security back into the system, ranchers at the Oct. 2 meeting argued.

Expected rent increases have raised equal ire. Ranchers argue that the new formula will raise rent exponentially and will be a strain when the first increases come for the 2020 season, despite a transition period meant to average the current $2.13 per animal unit month fee with the new market-based formula.

Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler says he has heard producer concerns. The first right of refusal is still open for discussion, he said, and his department will be at each of the upcoming Manitoba Beef Producer district meetings to hear from farmers.

“If there’s a way to make it better, we’re going to do that,” he said. “This is about ensuring that we have sustainability and predictability for those Crown Lands and then we enhance it for young producers and those existing producers.”

The province has previously argued that the new system will be more accountable and transparent, as well as freeing up previously moribund leases and ensuring that leased land is being effectively used.

Check out the front page of our Oct. 10 edition for the full story.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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