October 25, 2019
WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberals say the Pallister Government has to go back to the drawing board on changes to Crown Lands leases that farmers say are putting their farms and livelihood at risk.
Liberals said they have been receiving complaints from farmers across Manitoba who were shocked by the PCs new rules, announced without warning, that put family farms at risk.
The PCs have introduced a new auction system that drives up the price of getting a lease by 300%-350%, have reduced leases from 99 years to 15 years, and have decoupled leases from farms. This means families who have been farming for decades are facing steep new costs and uncertainty.
The Pallister Government has reversed itself on one aspect only - allowing farmers the right of "first refusal" on a lease. However, the higher prices and shorter terms will still apply. Both conditions make it harder for small farmers to work or get the credit they need.
"The PCs have to reverse themselves because Manitoba farmers are facing massive increases in fees and risk losing land they have been working for decades," said Dougald Lamont, Manitoba Liberal Leader and MLA for St. Boniface. "We understand that the goal was to help young farmers enter the market - but it can't be done at the expense of existing farms."
The PCs recently announced changes to the program would allow farmers who lease Crown land to have first right of renewal, but farmers are saying this measure does not go far enough.
Kevin Bjornson, who runs a small-scale cattle farm in Manitoba, is one of the farmers that will be severely impacted by this increase in leasing fees. His fees will be going up from around $5,000 up to $17, 000.
"It is evident the Pallister Government is favouring big corporate farms with little care for others that will be facing huge increases in fees that they can't afford,"said Bjornson.
Changes to the Agricultural Crown Lands program were meant to improve productivity of leased lands to grow the cattle herd in Manitoba. This is simply not the case, as there are no incentives in the revised rules that will lead to improved productivity of the leases for farmers.
The Pallister Government's rationale behind the fee increases is that cattle prices are high enough that the province can charge more - but this does not factor increases in input prices, equipment repairs, or other expenses farmers are facing. The lease durations are also being reduced from 99 or 50 years to 15 years.
Lamont said he's heard again and again that these rules were sprung on farmers without warning and without mention during the election. He has written a letter to newly appointed Minister of Agriculture Blaine Pedersen to express his concerns.
"Rural Manitoba needs a plan for development that focuses on supporting local farmers and local communities, but the PCs are delivering the opposite," said Lamont.