On October 10, in Estimates for the Department of Agriculture I asked Minister Eichler about his new regulations related to the use of Crown Land. We have received many concerns from beef producers about the negative impact of these regulations on their future. Interestingly the day after I raised these issues, Minister Eichler decided to make some changes to address some of the ranchers concerns. However, there still remain major concerns for many ranchers. My questions and the Minister's responses are below.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): What I'm hearing from a number of farmers is that some of these changes are going to be devastating. The minister is saying that young farmers are going to be the big beneficiaries, but I have here the Manitoba Beef Producers saying that young ranchers are going to feel the brunt of the changes that he's making.
It seems that there are a number of problems. You may have a large number of leases coming up in 2034 to be auctioned off at the same time. That's going to create, you know, I would suggest, some problems not only short term but long term because you–with the repeated 15 years, you would then have a whole lot more leases coming up in 2049.
Wouldn't it have been better to work out something that would not have, you know, had so many leases coming up all at once?
The removing the cap on the number of animals, I'm hearing, could have the potential for significant environmental degradation and leases themselves. While people may be good stewards of their land in the first few years, the way the auction works it could provide an incentive for people to degrade the land and harvest as much as they possibly can in the last few years so that the land won't be worth as much so that they'll have a better chance of bidding for it.
So I think that there's a number of problems here, and I would challenge the minister that it's not going to be quite as simple as he seems to think.
Mr. Eichler: I appreciate member's opposite suggestions, but I do want to stress this. Farmers are the best stewards of the land. I don't know of anybody the member's talking about that's going to destroy the land for the next generation; I don't know of anybody like that. And I would like him to apologize, first of all, because that's just wrong. I don't know of any farmer that would do that. Fact, I've been in the ag business, have been a farm boy my whole life, and I can tell you one thing I always do know and I'll always stand by and that's our farm families. They pay their bills. They will go without food. They'll feed their livestock before they'll even feed themselves. They want to make sure they have the best land for the next generation to come. So I take exception to that.
Did I say it was going to be easy? Absolutely not. And, as far as the leases are concerned, he said these all going to come up in 2034; that's not the case at all. Some will already have the renewals for 15 years, and they will be able to hold on to that land. So, once that becomes available, that land will become available and some of those leases will already be out. There's going to be farmers that are getting out of the business, some of them that, quite frankly, don't have cattle now; we can't take that land away from them under the current legislation, but now we will. That land will now become available for our young guys.
And do I have a crystal ball to look into and say what the values are going to be? I don't. But I know one thing for sure that farmers want to get a return on their investment, and that's making sure they got cattle on that land to utilize it and not sublet it. Under the previous agreements, the way it was set up, that was available to those producers to be able to sublet it. And those days are gone. And to have the ability to be able to sell their farm with public money, public land, is wrong. And every farmer has to have access to that land in order for us to grow our livestock producers. And the member should know that land that belongs to the general public should be utilized as that. They're simply borrowing the land. The farmers actually buy their land. They know that they're at risk with Crown land that still belongs to Manitobans and all Manitobans.
So no farmer should benefit as a result of having Crown lands and selling that with their farms, and it's been a misconception that this is acceptable, but it's not, and we want to ensure that beef producers have access to this land. And some of this process will be complicated, and that's why we're doing our town hall meetings. We're not afraid of meeting with our producers. We proved that with the consultation process. I don't know if you were here when I read on the record our consultation process, but we went through this every day. We wanted to make sure our farmers were aware. Probably a lot of them didn't pay attention; we know that. But we know the one thing for sure, we will meet with them in order to ensure that we do get it right so we do grow our beef herd in Manitoba, and we'll do that.
Member opposite should know that I'll do that. I give the member a briefing earlier on when we first introduced this. Your leader has asked me for a briefing, which we sent him an invite along with my critic. We wanted to do it last night with him, but he wasn't available, so we did make it available next week, which we will happily invite you to as well. If you're–want to come along with your leader, we're happy to do that. Our door is always open, and we'll continue to meet with our beef producers to ensure that their concerns are dealt with in a timely manner.
And, quite frankly, I believe we have it right. In fact, we offered to start to–when we first started this process, we offered a tender process on the Crown land. They said, no, no, we want to go the auction system. It's more transparent. We have to be there in person or we have to–somebody that's going to represent us and identify that they have the money in order to actually bid, and that's really critically important.
So I beg to differ with the member. I know that we will have challenges, but I'm not afraid of the challenges and neither are farm families. And we will stand with our farm families every day to ensure that they have access to this land now and into the future.
Future generations are important, and growing a beef herd's not going to be easy. We went from 800,000 head, prior to BSE and the flood of 2011, down to 450,000. We're still at about 500,000 now. We're on the trend up. Yes, we have some challenges with feed. We know that. We'll have some herds that are going to be sold off. Yes, we know that too.
But we also know there's hope, and we have to give them some hope, and that's what we’re doing with our new amendments to the Crown land leases.
Mr. Gerrard: The concern that I'm hearing is that we may end up with a lot of absentee landlords, people who've purchased land from other provinces. And the result of that will be a decreased number people of living in the area, decreased taxes and so on to the local municipality, increased taxes or costs to the rural municipality for bylaw enforcement and so on. So these are just some of the concerns which are being talked about.
I also want to talk briefly about the–we were talking earlier on about the carbon savings bank. One of the important areas to be preserving carbon is in the soil and, of course, in trees. And so–but in order to be able for an individual farmer to benefit, there's got to be good ways of measuring the amount of carbon that's stored in the soil and of measuring, you know, the number or the amount of carbon that the trees are absorbing. There's been quite a bit of work in other areas which suggests that there's advantages in having a not completely treed area, but some more trees than just an open, flat pasture, partly because the cattle can get out of the sun and they can get some shade, and that those trees actually enhance the production that you can get off the land.
And so, when people are talking about increasing, you know, the number of trees being grown, planting more trees, is there a possibility of doing that on pastures? And how will that work in terms of what the minister is proposing for the new rules in terms of the auctions and so on?
I think the other thing is that in the legislation, which we and the Manitoba Beef Producers supported, but it's the regulations which have come out very recently which are the ones of concern. And so we just want to make sure that the farmers are, you know, have good opportunities, that the land has got good stewardship and we're promoting biodiversity and carbon storage and things which are important in today's world.
Mr. Eichler: Well, I thank the member, Mr. Chair, for the question, because actually, at our protein summit that we just hosted–and I don't know if the member had the opportunity to follow up on it–but what we're looking at here is a 15 per cent reduction in the carbon intensity per kilogram of animal protein. And animal protein has been left out of the discussion on protein. It's mainly been about plant protein.
But cattle and grazing and Crown lands–actually, what we're looking at is a 15 per cent increase in productivity of agricultural Crown lands and privately owned grassland and forages, increased public trust of protein processing and production.
This gives us an opportunity to really bring it to a new level, and I hope the member opposite will be with us hand in hand in order to ensure that we do promote beef and grassland management. Actually, hooves on the ground are critically important. It's regenerative agriculture, and that's something we don't do enough job of promoting. A lot of this misinformation is out there. Some–even the weather networks, well, said, let's don't grow beef no more. That's just wrong. Cattle and the environment work well together. And we got to make people understand that.
It's not just about trees. Trees are important, absolutely. I couldn't agree with the member more. But what's critically important is the right information getting out to the general public.
And, as the Minister of Agriculture, I do my best. But all of us in this room have a responsibility to talk about climate change. Climate change is real; there's no doubt about that. And we want to make sure we have the right tools in place for them to be able to do that. And, by making some of these changes and making sure the land is used for what it's intended to, and with beef, being what they do to contribute to the carbon footprint in reduction and harmony with them, are weight gain–we see this as a win-win for our beef producers. And we hope that members opposite will help us get that message out.
And, as I said earlier on, I'll be happy to brief you both, anybody else that wants to come in. I know I've done this for my own caucus. But, certainly, we're about transparency and accountability. We want to make sure we get this right. That is critically important as part of our protein advantage, and, as we move forward, critically important that we ensure that we get the best for our farm families as we go forward.