Pasture patrons slow to sign leases

Pasture transfer | Non-reversionary land on federal pastures is an issue for some users

Some patrons of federal pastures set to change hands this spring say the process isn’t unfolding as smoothly as Saskatchewan’s agriculture minister says it is.

Lyle Stewart recently said the process of turning the pastures over to the province and eventually to users was going well.

However, Dean Palmer, chair of the McCraney Grazing Corp. near Davidson, said patrons are frustrated with deadlines that change and the inability to reach a solution on non-reversionary land.

He said patrons won’t sign a lease until the terms are satisfactory.

Non-reversionary land is land within pastures that the federal government owns outright.

It can’t transfer the land directly to the province but must go through a disposition process that gives the agriculture department and then other government agencies the chance to buy it. The province is next in line.

Twenty-one pastures contain non-reversionary land, said Wally Hoehn, Saskatchewan’s lands manager.

In McCraney’s case, the pasture’s home quarter and yard site sit on such land.

Palmer said the current manager wants to stay there with his young family and continue to work for the patrons while also becoming a patron.

He is reluctant to make a commitment without knowing who will actually own the land in the end.

Hoehn said yard sites were a priority for the province.

“We wanted this dealt with immediately,” he said.

The provincial and federal agriculture departments had negotiated a land swap last fall to accommodate cases like this, but it fell through when other federal agencies stepped in.

Hoehn said there is a licence to occupy the land in place. The province recognizes this doesn’t offer the same tenure or security, but at this point it has to wait for the federal process to play out.

Palmer said the patrons he represents are hesitant to sign a lease with unresolved issues because they worry about the precedent that might be set.

He said the province had set a Dec. 1 signing deadline but then said it could wait until spring.

McCraney is among the first five pastures that Ottawa surrendered to the province as of Dec. 1.

The other four are Estevan-Cambria, Wolverine, Ituna Bon Accord and Park.

Hoehn said the province has signed leases with two of the other four since Dec. 1, but he declined to say which two.

The deadline was established because the province knew Ottawa was going to surrender the land by the end of November.

“We try to establish deadlines, but if they can’t be met we have to change them,” he said.

Palmer said patrons are also frustrated with the purchase of pasture bulls.

They wanted assurance that the bulls are sound and asked for breeding soundness evaluations in spring. However, the government wanted the bulls bought and paid for in the fall.

“If we don’t have to sign a land lease until spring, why not the bulls?” Palmer said.

Hoehn said the federal government set the price for the bulls, but the province is collecting the money and will then turn it over.

He said the issue was largely the welfare of the bulls because federal staff in the five pastures will be gone as of Jan. 15.

“Within their system, they needed the bulls to be picked up and gone,” he said.

McCraney pasture patrons each contributed $125 per cow to pay for the bulls and found someone to look after them for the winter.

For Palmer, his 100-head allocation resulted in a $12,500 bill.

“It was hard to come up with,” Palmer said.

“You’re paying the fall bill for the federal government and then a month later we needed the $125 (per cow) to buy the bulls. Initially we were supposed to write the cheque Nov. 1. Now we’re told the end of January. It’s sitting in the bank.”

Palmer also said the first year after the takeover will be costly for the patrons.

They will have to pay half of their grazing fee up front to cover managerial costs and bills.

“It’s a big commitment by everybody whether you have 10 head or 100,” he said.

Each pasture group is establishing its own grazing fees. McCraney has set a $5.99 per animal unit month lease fee, which is significantly higher than other places, Palmer said.

He calculated a cost of $185 to $190 per cow-calf pair for 130 days, compared to the current $150 per pair.

Palmer said he gives the province credit for sticking with patrons but said the transition isn’t as smooth as it could be.

The next five pastures are to be transferred by March 31: Fairview, Newcombe, Lone Tree, Excel and Keywest.

Hoehn said issues common to all pastures have been worked out. For example, lease lengths will be 15 years and maximum allocation per pasture has been set at 100 animals per patron.

Temporary allocations have also been established to allow pastures that might need extra animals to authorize someone to bring in more than 100 for a three-year term.

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