In a surprise move, a former agriculture minister in Manitoba has been re-appointed to the job.
Manitoba premier Brian Pallister announced July 15 that Ralph Eichler has once again become the province’s agriculture minister.
Eichler served in that role from 2015-19, following the Progressive Conservatives’ election in the spring of 2015. He will replace Blaine Pedersen, an MLA from Midland.
Pedersen became ag minister in the fall of 2019, after the Progressive Conservatives were re-elected in Manitoba.
For the last 21 months, Pedersen was in charge of an expanded department called Agriculture and Resource Development, responsible for agriculture, watershed districts, forestry, mining, fish and wildlife management.
Keystone Agricultural Producers in a news release welcomed Eichler to his renewed position and thanked Pedersen for his service.
“As a producer and advocate, MLA and cabinet minister, we have appreciated minister Pedersen’s passion and engagement and wish him the best.”
The Manitoba Pork Council issued a similar statement.
“We welcome minister Eichler back to his role … and we look forward to working alongside him to ensure our sector’s continued prosperity,” said Rick Préjet, chair of Manitoba Pork.
“We have worked with minister Pedersen regularly during his time as an MLA and as a cabinet minister, and we sincerely appreciate his advocacy for agriculture and leadership on issues impacting rural Manitoba,” Préjet added.
Pedersen is well known in the province’s ag sector, having operated a cattle and grain farm for 30 years in Elm Creek and being involved in the Manitoba Cattle Producers Association, now known as Manitoba Beef Producers.
However, some cattle ranchers were not happy with Pedersen or the government’s policy changes around crown land leases. The changes were developed while Eichler was minister but implemented under Pedersen.
The province shortened the crown land leases from 50 to 15 years, moved 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.
A leaseholder can still transfer a lease to someone within their family but can no longer sell it to someone who buys their farm. Some ranchers are still unhappy about the removal of the “unit transfer” because they say it’s become more difficult to sell ranches.
Buyers don’t want a cattle farm that comes with a few quarters of deeded land and no guaranteed access to crown land, said Shelley Dyck, who moved to Manitoba from Alberta a few years ago and bought property east of Ste. Rose
“Now the government says you can’t sell that as a unit, you can only sell your two quarters of land,” she said last fall.
“You know what? Two quarters of land in Coyer, Man., is worth nothing…. You can’t sustain a family.”
Eichler returns to his old job at a difficult time for cattle producers and many farmers in Manitoba.
A multi-year drought and scorching temperatures this summer have devastated hay, pasture, crops and water supplies. The province said Eichler’s immediate priority will be “drought relief support for hard-hit farmers and ranchers.”