Province makes about-face on changes to Crown land leases after backlash from ranchers
Farmers will be given 1st right of renewal on Crown land leases before they go to auction, province says
The Manitoba government has made an about-face on a decision to change how Crown lands are leased after backlash from ranchers.
The Progressive Conservative government said Friday it would reverse a decision to make all new and renewing agricultural leases for Crown lands available through public auction, instead of allowing the leases to be passed down from farmers to their relatives.
Now, producers will be given the first right of renewal for existing legacy Crown land leases — those leases which can be passed from generation to generation.
"I'm glad that they've reversed their decision, because quite honestly, I didn't know that they would. I didn't believe that they would," said Arvid Nottveit, a cattle rancher from Peonan Point, Man., about 220 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
The province leases out some of its Crown lands that are suitable for agricultural for purposes such as cattle grazing. There are approximately 1,750 forage leaseholders, the province said in a Sept. 27 news release announcing changes to the leasing program.
Those changes, which came into effect on Oct. 1, include reducing the maximum length of leases from 50 years to 15 years.
On Friday, the province said farmers who have legacy forage leases that expire before Dec. 31, 2034, will have the first right to renew until that date. After that, the leases go back to auction.
Producers with leases that expire after 2034 will continue under their current terms, and are not affected by the new rules.
"This clarifies that so that there's nothing in their way if they want to have that first renewal right — then we're prepared to make the necessary changes to ensure that," Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler told CBC Friday.
The minister said no regulatory changes would be needed and the goal of the changes is to simplify a confusing process, and give new opportunities to young farmers.
As an example, he cited a situation such as a rancher with a land lease passing away, whose neighbour will now have the chance to bid on the lease through public auction.
"That young guy, the neighbour, that's been waiting for it never really got a chance. So now they'll get a chance," Eichler said.
"My dream is that … younger guys are going to be able to take advantage of the program."
The reversal is good news for Nottveit, who was vocal with his concerns about changes to the lease program he said would have had a devastating impact on his livelihood.
He owns just over 160 hectares (400 acres) and leases almost 4,000 more hectares (9,600 acres). If he lost his lease when it's up in 2034, he said, the land he owns wouldn't be enough for him to stay in business.
"It would have created a lot of insecurity in terms of whether or not we could proceed financially. Our margin is very slim here and any cost increase is a concern," he said Friday.
The change to leases would also have been a blow to his children, he says, who are interested in taking over the family business, which is almost 100 years old.
Manitoba Beef Producers told CBC earlier this week it had heard many concerns from ranchers about the changes and would keep pushing for lease renewals.
On Friday, NDP agriculture critic Diljeet Brar questioned why the province made the initial changes, considering the large number of beef producers who voiced their opposition.
"If they changed something and now they're saying 'we'll again change it,' what's the purpose of the change? What's the purpose of the earlier change?"
The issue of Crown land leases came up at the legislature on Tuesday, when Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew brought it up during question period.
Eichler refuted Kinew's concerns, arguing the new system was fair and transparent and would help stimulate economic growth.
In Friday's news release, the minister said the amended changes will strike a balance between providing consistency and creating new opportunities for young farmers.
"This balanced approach shows we're listening to the concerns of farmers and are supportive of the livestock industry in Manitoba," he said.