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Sask. budget ends farmland sale program early

Saskatchewan will wind up its agricultural crown land sale incentive program a year early.

The June 1 provincial budget estimates a cost of $17.2 million for the incentive, which was introduced last November and expected to run until Dec. 31, 2017.

Along with an extra $14.6 million to fully fund business risk management programs, the ministry’s allocation climbs to $390 million for the fiscal year, up from $361 million in 2015-16.

However, agriculture minister Lyle Stewart noted that land sales also produce revenue.

The program offers land of low ecological value to current leaseholders at reduced rates.

Since November, about 40,000 acres have sold. A 15 percent price discount was in place until March 31; the current discount of 10 percent will last until the program ends Dec. 31.

Stewart said the discount was supposed to drop to five percent on Jan. 1, 2017, and last for another year.

“I wouldn’t have expected a lot of the sales within the third year,” he said in an interview.

“Most would want to do it this year to get the 10 percent incentive.”

The program also significantly hiked lease rates for those who continued renting. Rates went up 15 percent this year and will go up by 30 percent in 2017.

Stewart said that will still happen as planned, and rental rates will continue to increase over time.

The government has always said farmers should own land that doesn’t have public benefit. Crown native prairie and land with high ecological value are not for sale.

“Now is the time to buy,” Stewart said.

Interest rates are low, commodity prices have been good and lenders are receptive, he said.

Funding for most ministry programs is about the same as the previous year. Spending on research programs is nearly $26 million, and regional services such as extension come in at almost $40 million.

Industry assistance is down slightly due to a $175,000 reduction in the comprehensive pest control program.

Crop insurance premiums are up by $11.6 million to go along with a corresponding increase in coverage.

The budget allocates just more than $31 million for AgriStability, up from $27.9 million in last year’s estimates, and $37.5 million for AgriInvest, down from $38.5 million.

Overall, the budget saw no new taxes and no tax increases.

The province is projecting a $434 million deficit for the year on revenues of $14.288 billion and expenses of $14.181 billion and still promises to balance the books in 2017-18.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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