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Sask. sweetens terms for community pasture operation

The Saskatchewan government plans to offer an improved deal to rancher groups to take over operations of community pastures being offloaded from the federal government.

The province — which received the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) pastures after the federal government announced in April 2012 it would remove itself from the community pasture business — said Thursday it will now offer pasture patron groups the option to either purchase the pastures or lease them on a 15-year term.

The province added Thursday it will provide use of fixed assets such as fences, dugouts and cattle handling facilities to patrons at no cost, “provided patrons perform regular maintenance.”

Patrons now also have the option to buy those improvements at zero per cent interest over the term of their lease, “if they wish to do so in order to gain equity,” the province said.

The sale of those assets to patrons posed a “significant increase in costs” in some pastures, the province said, but noted the federal government has indicated those assets will be transferred to the provincial government “at no cost.”

Ten of Saskatchewan’s ex-PFRA pastures will transfer to the province after the 2013 grazing season, then to patron operation for the 2014 grazing season. Saskatchewan’s remaining 51 community pastures are to be transferred to patron operation by the 2018 grazing season.

The 10 sites picked for transfer in October — Excel, Keywest, Estevan-Cambria, Wolverine, McCraney, Fairview, Newcombe, Park, Lone Tree and Ituna Bon Accord — were chosen based mainly on “interest from patrons, proposals received and consultations and discussions with patron advisory committee chairs,” the province said at the time.

“The majority of patrons are also pasture managers and environmental stewards on their own ranches and recognize this is an opportunity for them,” Howard Toews, a Saskatchewan Cattlemen’s Association director and pasture patron, said in the province’s release Tuesday.

The group’s producers “recognize and appreciate the province’s commitment to patrons, as well as the time, effort and flexibility allocated to assist with this transition,” said Toews, who ranches at Watrous.

The province in November also offered patron groups up to $120,000 per group to help cover costs of establishing legal entities — that is, new corporations to run the pastures — as well as the costs for business training and developing business plans.

That offer covers up to 75 per cent of the costs associated with establishing legal entities and developing business plans to a maximum of $80,000, and up to 75 per cent of the costs for patrons to improve their business management skills, to a maximum $40,000 per group.

“Too rushed”

A group of farmers, conservationists and academics called Public Pastures-Public Interest on Wednesday released a list of six “principles” which it urged the province to honour, including keeping the pastures’ ownership in “the public domain,” maintaining grazing as a priority, retaining “professional” pasture managers, preserving the pastures’ “natural landscapes and ecological integrity,” preserving their “cultural and historic significance” and recognizing and sustaining the investment in the “public benefits” the publicly-owned pastures provided.

“The goal should be to ensure that the best-management practices developed through the PFRA continue to serve pasture patrons, protect our natural and cultural heritage, and provide benefits for the people of Saskatchewan,” the group said Wednesday at a press conference in Regina.

“The Saskatchewan government has bought a little time from the federal government to do some review of the situation, but forcing a decision to dispose of the first 10 pastures by the fall of 2013, as currently planned, is too rushed.”

Related stories:
Sask. pasture patrons get startup money, Nov. 16, 2012
Community pasture takeover plan revealed, Nov. 15, 2012
Prairies’ community pastures all to stay open in 2012, April 18, 2012

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