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Big Sky Outcome May Test Sask. Party

The Saskatchewan Party government is proving you can lean a little bit to the right without upsetting too many people.

The province’s $20 bounty on coyotes has drawn some adverse reaction, but isn’t contentious for most people who understand the explosion in the coyote population.

As a kid on the farm, coyote sightings were rare for me. Now, coyotes are all over the place. Farm cats have become an endangered species on some farms because coyotes pick them off.

The farm dog isn’t safe either. Packs of coyotes will howl close to farmyards at night trying to coax the dog into the open where they can get a crack at him.

In daylight, coyotes usually keep their distance from humans, though I’ve seen a few mangy specimens that had no fear. Like most people, I was surprised by the reports of a 19-year-old woman killed this fall in Cape Breton by a pair of coyotes.

For livestock owners, there’s no doubt coyotes are deadly. Predation by coyotes is the No. 1 reason sheep production is not increasing.

Some say doing away with coyotes will just make the gopher problem worse. Well, in my area, the gopher population hasn’t changed much and there are still a disconcerting number of coyotes.

The $20 bounty won’t solve the problem, but will provide a bit more incentive to hunters and trappers in the wake of depressed fur prices. More than anything, it’s a sign the government recognizes a coyote problem.

Those who worry about the bounty tarnishing Saskatchewan’s image should hunker down in their basements and watch some more Walt Disney reruns.

Another slight deviation to the right side of Saskatchewan’s political spectrum can be seen in its Agricultural Crown Land Program. Ranchers and farmers leasing Crown land will get another year to buy the land at a 10 per cent discount.

The discount was set to drop to eight per cent at the end of 2009. The provincial government has now extended the 10 per cent to the end of 2010. For sales in 2011, an eight per cent discount will apply. For 2012, the discount will be six per cent and so on.

The price tag is based on a land value report by the Agriculture Ministry and/or an accredited appraisal. An estimated 1.5 million acres are eligible for sale. The program has been running a year and while there has been a lot of tire kicking, only 110,000 acres have been sold to lessees.

Ranchers and their organizations asked for a program extension and the province obliged. It’s too bad the cow/calf business is facing such poor returns. Lots of producers would like to own some or all of their leased land.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

The difference between the Sask. Party and its NDP predecessor can also be seen in the handling of Big Sky Farms. Big Sky has been a well-managed company with a social conscience, but size and efficiency haven’t been enough to compensate for years of low hog prices.

Big Sky has filed for creditor protection. The Sask. Party has been clear it doesn’t agree with governments picking business winners and losers. The province won’t be investing more money to bail out the company even though it’s Saskatchewan’s largest hog producer.

The difficult part of the equation is the farmers who are unpaid for feed grain sales to Big Sky, along with a host of other suppliers who are also owed money.

If these suppliers are still unpaid after the creditor protection process ends, should the government step in and provide compensation? After all, Big Sky is majority owned by the province.

No government can lean too far to the right without paying a price in public support.

– Kevin Hursh is a professional agrologist and farmer based in

Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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