Grazing leases continue to frustrate in Man.

Producers are unhappy with changes that mean a crown land lease is no longer included when land is sold in the province

The region north and east of Ste. Rose du Lac is rugged country.

The area on the west side of Lake Manitoba has a few towns and villages, including Crane River, Cayer and Kinosota, but it’s mostly large expanses of aspen trees, bush and rough pasture land.

It’s also home to a large portion of the crown land leases in Manitoba and dozens of ranchers depend on that crown land to raise cattle.

A number of those cattle producers are frustrated with the provincial government over changes to the rules that govern crown land leases in Manitoba.

In 2019, the province shortened the lease from 50 to 15 years, changed to an open auction to bid on available leases and increased the rental rate. The province said the amendments would provide new entrants and young farmers more opportunity to access crown lands.

Shelley Dyck, who moved to Manitoba from Alberta two years ago and bought property east of Ste. Rose, is one of many cattle producers unhappy with the new rules.

Dyck and her husband bought 2.5 sections of deeded land and they expected that nearly seven sections of crown land, controlled by the previous owner, would be part of the purchase.

However, the province amended the rules so a crown land lease is no longer included when land is sold in Manitoba.

In other provinces, farmers can still transfer their crown land lease to the buyer of their farm, Dyck said.

“We’ve lived in Alberta most of our career. We had lots of leased land there and you could always sell your lease there,” she said.

“In (British Columbia), we bought a little ranch…. When you buy the ranch you get the lease with it…. In Saskatchewan, our son lives there… you buy a property and the (crown land) lease transfers to you with the property…. It’s sold as a unit.”

Instead of being sold “as a unit”, when someone with a crown land lease sells their farm in Manitoba, the lease goes into an auction.

The buyer of the farm can still acquire the lease in the auction, if they have the highest bid.

The change to unit transfers has been devastating for many cattle producers in the region, Dyck said.

It’s now difficult to sell ranches because buyers don’t want a cattle farm with what might be a few quarters of deeded land and no guaranteed crown lease access.

Many producers in the region own a small amount of land. They rely upon leases for five, 10 or 20 sections of crown land to make their operation viable.

“Now the government says you can’t sell that as a unit, you can only sell your two quarters of land,” Dyck said. “You know what? These people are bankrupt…. Two quarters of land in Cayer, Man., is worth nothing…. You can’t sustain a family.”

In Dyck’s case, the value of her farm has taken a hit. Since she doesn’t control the lease and can’t sell it (in the future) with her deeded land, the cattle ranch is less attractive to a potential buyer.

The area around Ste. Rose has attracted people from Saskatchewan, Alberta, Scotland, Wales and South Africa because farmland is still affordable, Dyck said.

But newcomers won’t buy land and move to Manitoba if access to crown land isn’t part of the real estate deal.

“They all came here because of the opportunity… (but) Manitoba has shut the door on that.”

Manitoba’s agriculture minister, Blaine Pedersen, said unit transfers were never “embedded in legislation or regulation” in Manitoba.

“Nowhere else in agro-Manitoba are landowners entitled to include leased land with the sale of titled properties,” he said in an email. “Unit transfers have, in fact, encouraged out of province investments to the detriment of local, particularly young, producers.”

Pedersen added the province held public auctions for crown land leases last winter and Manitoba producers picked up the leases.

“Young farmers in particular were successful in securing parcels of agriculture crown land leases. Many producers have expressed an interest in purchasing their lease land and the Manitoba government continues to develop a system to accomplish this.”

The province already modified its proposed rules so that leaseholders have the first opportunity to renew their lease. And the lease can be transferred from one generation of the family to the next.

Manitoba Beef Producers is pleased with the change, but the group is concerned about the size and pace of rental rate increases. It has asked the province for a five-year transition toward higher rental rates.

Dyck acknowledged that rent for crown land was historically cheaper in Manitoba compared to other provinces.

But the rapid increase in rates is hurting producers around Ste. Rose.

“Yes. Rates needed to go up. (But) they maybe needed to go up over a longer period of time,” she said. “People are having to sell cows to make their lease payments.”

Plus, the crown land around Ste. Rose looks nothing like a rolling pasture, with green grass as far as the eye can see.

The rates were lower because it’s less productive, Dyck said.

“This is rough land… (with) wet, wet grass. There are less days you can keep the cattle out there. I believe the (lower) lease rate reflected its value.”

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