Leasing pastures an option, says Sask. ag minister

Patrons of former federal pastures in Saskatchewan will be able to lease the land if buying it isn’t feasible, says agriculture minister Lyle Stewart.

Initially, the province said it intended to sell the 60 pastures it is inheriting from Ottawa by 2018.

But when the first 10 to be transferred were announced Oct. 19, Stewart said leasing is an option.

In fact, he said most of the pastures will likely end up leased.

“For some patrons groups on some pastures, I think sale is clearly the way to go,” he said in an interview. “For others it may not be. The numbers just don’t work as well on some of them as they do on others. I don’t think we have any choice but to give both options.”

Guiding principles applied to the transfers include giving each patron group the chance to own or lease, maintaining each pasture as a complete block, selling the land at market value, and applying a no-break, no-drain conservation easement to any sale of native prairie.

“The public should have a great deal of comfort about species at risk and maintenance of the grassland and so on,” the minister said.

Any sales will require an appraisal. Leases will operate the same as current crown land leases do and patrons will operate the pasture.

Stewart wasn’t yet prepared to say what will happen in the case of the first 10: Park, Fairview, Newcombe, Lone Tree, Wolverine, McCraney, Ituna Bon Accord, Excel, Keywest and Estevan-Cambria.

The 10 are scattered throughout the province and Stewart said that was by design so as not to affect one area more than another. There are other considerations as well.

“There are 440,000 acres out there that have never had titles generated for them, and some pastures have a great deal of oil and gas activity,” he said. “There’s a considerable amount of IT work that has to happen before we can transfer them to the provincial system from the federal.”

Harold Martens, president of the Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association and member of the advisory committee that helped Stewart set parameters for the transfers, said the first 10 represent pastures that held title and had patrons’ groups ready to move forward.

“This is going to be a business they’re running and that requires a business plan and a legal entity,” Martens said. “In a legal entity, they’re going to need to have a set of bylaws that govern how they operate, how they let people in and how they manage theirs, and also how they let people out.”

There is also the question of financing. Farm Credit Canada is working on a financing plan that could help patrons take over, Stewart said, and other financial institutions are welcome to step forward.

“I’m confident if patrons groups are in a position to purchase, then financing options will be available for them,” he said.

The province and Ottawa are also working on a memorandum of understanding to make sure federal staff manage the 10 pastures through the 2013 grazing season.

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