Close to 400 Manitoba ranchers gathered inside the Ste. Rose du Lac community hall Oct. 2 to vent their frustrations surrounding recent changes to the Agricultural Crown Lands leasing program.
According to Brent Benson, a media relations representative for the Manitoba Crown Land Leaseholders Association, these farmers were mostly concerned with the new rules that shorten land lease terms from 50 years to 15 years.
Benson told the Sun on Monday that this move could bring about "the death of family farms" in Manitoba, since large corporations will simply swoop in and easily buy up these parcels of land in a public auction.
"That’s a huge concern for us, that they could come in there with deep pockets and basically outbid everybody," he said. "And these farmers aren’t making much money to begin with, so they won’t have a lot of cash sitting around to bid against corporations or large farms."
These new changes really hit home for Benson, since his farm in the Lake Winnipegosis area has been in the family for 102 years.
"My grandfather broke the land, he pushed the fence lines through and made the place," he said. "And my young daughter, who is 14 at the moment, wants to take over — and the way the rule stands right now, she could be kicked off the farm at age 30."
Benson said these new rules also represent a big blow to the morale of current family ranchers, since all their hard work over the next 15 years could be in the service of making their farm more appealing to a predatory buyer.
"Because if you build good fences and you graze properly and break the land and put good crops in, the more apt it is to be stolen from you."
Benson said the farmers who attended this Oct. 2 rally, hailing from communities like Swan River, Roblin and Glenella, were also frustrated with the expected rent increases that come hand-in-hand with the formula outlined in the new legislation.
Following the meeting in Ste. Rose du Lac, Benson said he and other ranchers are taking proactive measures to try to reverse these changes, including a letter-writing campaign and various other lobbying efforts with Manitoba Beef Producers.
If need be, Benson said they are even willing to take their grievances directly to the province by holding a protest outside the legislature.
"It’s too important to our family farms to sit back and wait for a politician’s promises."
Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler originally introduced these modifications to the Agricultural Crown Lands leasing program on Sept. 27.
In the official government press release, Eichler said these changes were made to modernize and streamline the process.
"Manitoba will see a number of benefits from this updated regulation, including increased transparency and accountability of the program, and a reduction in red tape," he said. "The updated regulation will also help contribute to provincial economic growth by helping expand our livestock industry, further positioning us as a leader in protein production and processing."
Ste. Rose du Lac is located approximately 50 kilometres east of Dauphin.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that under the new Agricultural Crown Lands leasing program leases are transferable to family members, but only for the remainder of the lease term.