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Province backs down on legacy Crown land lease renewals

Outraged Crown land lease holders will get their first right of refusal for legacy leases, the province now says

Ranchers with existing Crown land leases will have a first right of refusal, the province says.

The news comes after new Agricultural Crown Land regulations sparked outrage among ranchers. Ranchers argued that the regulations, which dropped term lengths from 50 years to 15 years and cemented allocation by open auction, threatened the future of their farms.

Why it matters: Ranchers worried that new Crown land regulations threatened to put them out of business, but it looks like existing lease holders will get the first right of refusal that they argued would return continuity and certainty to their operations.

Ranches in Crown land heavy areas might owe over 90 per cent of their land base to Crown lands, those ranchers argued, creating a system where the rancher would have to compete for the lion’s share of their farm every 15 years and might easily have that farm swept out from under them if someone posted a bid they couldn’t afford.

Producers at a last minute meeting in Ste. Rose du Lac Oct. 2 argued that a first right of refusal would solve many of those issues.

Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler announced that producers would get that wish Oct. 11, but only for ranchers that already hold a lease. A press release announced first right of “renewal” for legacy leases beyond the 2034 deadline outlined in the regulations.

Existing lease holders already got one renewal up to 2034 under the new regulations as a means to grandfather in changes.

“The province is pursuing further amendment to the regulation to enable successive renewals for legacy leases, provided leaseholders remain eligible,” the Oct. 11 release states.

“We made it real clear,” Eichler said. “We never, ever intended to hurt any existing producers or take land away from them that are still in the business. You know, when we’re talking about second, third generations. These are mostly legacy leases that are handed down from one generation to the other.”

New leases will operate under the 15-year term and auction, as described in the regulations released in late September, he said.

“They’ll know that going forward,” Eichler said. “Where the existing, the legacy leases, the ones we’re talking about for the family farms that go on for generation to generation, they wanted more certainty. The next generation of farmers, they’ll know that in 15 years they’ll have to go and bid against the general public again. They won’t necessarily have first right of refusal, but they’ll certainly know that piece of land and whether it’s worth another 15 years or not. The idea is to have access for young producers to be able to have access to this land.”

A group of young producers could also join together to create a community pasture under the new regulations and so get established that way, he added.

“Having the first right of renewal on legacy leases is very important to all cattle producers,” Manitoba Beef Producers president Tom Teichroeb said. “Access and predictability are essential to long-term planning related to livestock operations, especially related to their grazing and haying resources.  This is a valuable commitment on the part of the provincial government.  MBP will continue to engage with it about various aspects of the modernization of the Crown lands program to ensure it is both effective and efficient for beef producers.”

The province planned two public meetings Oct. 15 and Oct. 17 in Ste. Rose du Lac and Moosehorn, Man., to outline the changes.

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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