The Manitoba government is partially changing course on a decision to put Crown land up for auction whenever leases expire after Oct. 1.
After opposition from groups such as the Manitoba Beef Producers, Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler announced Friday the province would allow farmers who lease Crown land to have first right of renewal if their contracts expire before Dec. 31, 2034.
Carson Callum, general manager of Manitoba Beef Producers, called the move a "step in the right direction."
"You need to have some predictability to access some of these lands. A lot of these operations, a large percentage of their operation is Crown land. So they need to have some assurance that when they’re putting in some investment, say fences or any sort of infrastructure, that they’re not just going to lose it to the highest bidder in an auction when their 15-year term is up," he said.
For families looking to pass their farm operations on to next generations, the move guarantees them some room for succession planning, Callum said.
Eichler said the government did hundreds of consultations, through in-person and written submissions, to try and modernize the Crown Lands Act.
"So we thought we had everything right, but people read it and they’re not sure, so they panic and I don’t blame them. That’s their livelihood," he said, noting the province’s intention was never to freeze out local farmers.
"Nobody would probably bid against them anyway, but this gives them a guarantee that they have the first right of refusal. And we never did ever intend to hurt any existing producers. We’re here just to try and get rid of those that’s been holding onto the land forever and they haven’t had cattle for awhile."
NDP agriculture critic Diljeet Brar, who worked for Manitoba Agriculture before entering politics, said the government’s new system doesn’t consider farmers who may want to expand. Those farmers won’t get first crack at Crown land, likely having to compete with larger corporations in the bidding process, he said.
"The previous system, that was OK, that was inclusive. That was providing an opportunity for the (agriculture) producers who are living nearby, who already work on the land nearby and had experience, and they’re interested to participate or start their career through Crown lands. Now they could be out a bit. That’s the threat," Brar said.
The province will participate in public meetings next week to discuss changes to Crown land regulations: Oct. 15, 7-9 p.m. at the Ste. Rose Community Hall; and Oct. 17, 7-9 p.m. at the Moosehorn Community Hall near Ashern.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.