Saskatchewan rancher Bryce Burnett is urging his fellow producers to get actively involved in the discussion about the future of PFRA community pastures in that province.
As the federal government proceeds with plans to wind down the long-standing PFRA community pasture program, Burnett says there are too many unanswered questions,about the future of the 60 pastures thousands of Saskatchewan producers rely on for summer grazing.
“The federal government has said producers should now form associations to take over these pastures, that they will have to buy or lease the land, but we haven’t seen any figures on what that would cost,” says Burnett, who ranches with his family near Swift Current.
“Some of this land is owned by the federal government, and some is owned by the provincial government, some of them have oil and gas leases, who would get those? What about the value of the improvements on the land? There are just a lot of unanswered questions.”
Burnett says the provincial government needs to step up and take over the continued operation of the community pastures. “Producers need to be talking to their MLAs and they also need to be talking to each other about how this will be handled.”
Burnett runs a purebred Tarentaise and Black Angus operation and has been a patron of the PFRA Swift Current/Webb Community Pasture for more than 30 years. There are 60 patrons (other area ranchers) using the pasture that supports about 1,800 head of cattle over the summer grazing period.
The federal government will be phasing in the community pasture transition over the next five years. The first 10 Saskatchewan pastures being transferred to patron operation by 2014 include: Estevan-Cambria; Excel; Fairview; Ituna-Bon Accord; Keywest; Lone Tree; McCraney; Newcombe; Park and Wolverine.
“It is all well and good to say they will just transfer operation of these pastures to the patrons, but you have to look at it realistically,” says Burnett. “If there are 60 patrons using a pasture, a lot of them are getting older like me and may not want to be investing in the project and many may be younger producers who can’t afford it. Out of 60 you might be lucky to end up with 15 who are actually interested.”
Burnett wonders if a patron-owned pasture would be able to maintain the same high standard of pasture management found under the PFRA system. And because the PFRA community pasture was open to all, it afforded many young “startup” producers an economical opportunity to build their herd until they became more established.
In a prepared statement on the community pasture transfer, Burnett said:
“The federal government is in the process of washing their hands of PFRA community pastures. The ideals that structured community pastures for ranchers, conservationists and the public are being ignored because of political ideology rather than the needs of the cattle industry.
“I can understand the federal government’s view as it is evident they have no intent of sustaining the current family farm operation in Western Canada. However, it is time for the Saskatchewan Party government to stand on their own two feet and stick up for the cattle industry. Agriculture is and will remain the basic industry in Saskatchewan as the majority of the population in Saskatchewan is directly or indirectly affected by the sustainability of this industry agriculture — after all we all eat.
“Let us not dismantle the structure of the PFRA community pasture system for the sake of ideology. The majority (we must not forget we live in a democracy) of patrons, conservationists and those affected by these fragile lands realize the benefits, production and profitability of the present structure, now and into future generations.
“This is an opportunity for this provincial government to step up and keep the lands under one umbrella; it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel. Forming new individual identities for each pasture will only cost patrons more money which they cannot afford and is needless, for less benefits and a significant loss to environmentalists, hunters and wild life and the agriculture industry.
“Patrons cannot afford to purchase lands and assets which they have already contributed to and in most cases already paid for with pasture grazing fees.
“It is time for patrons to come together and let our provincial government grasp the benefits of an existing system for the sustainability of our agriculture cattle industry.” †