The future of PFRA pastures has been in many people’s minds since we announced in Budget 2012 that the federal government will be ending its management of Community Pastures. The Community Pastures Program has been a land management service provided on 85 pastures throughout the Prairies provinces. It had its genesis in the 1930’s when the PFRA was established and its purpose was to reclaim lost and eroded land during the Depression when the provinces were facing severe financial restraints. Ninety percent of the land in the Community Pastures Program has always been provincially owned. The decision has been made that in order to focus on the present challenges of farmers and ranchers that, Community Pastures will be divested to provincial control. Opportunities will be created for those with a direct stake in the pastures to take over pasture management and perhaps ownership. We will be working with the provincial governments and divestiture options will be investigated for the federally owned pastures. Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) will be working with the provincial government to ensure a smooth transition in this process.
No pastures will be impacted in 2012. The plan is for AAFC to discontinue pasture management over a five year plan starting in 2013-14. Federal operations on pastures will be wound down in stages – starting with five pastures in 2013-14. The selection of those pastures is still in process. I am told that pasture staff have been informed of the plan for divestiture but as I pointed out there are no changes in 2012.
Southwest Saskatchewan has a significant number of community pastures, including pastures that are federally owned. It is no surprise that this issue is getting a lot of attention in our rural communities. Access to the pastures is essential to ranching operations. I have received calls from concerned ranchers, local councillors and the heads of several of the Pasture Advisory Committees - we have already started the discussion that will be ongoing for the next few years. While this decision will affect our area, I believe that it presents as many opportunities as it does challenges.
We know that this decision will be going ahead. It is to our benefit to begin by focusing on future solutions, rather than trying to argue that things must continue as they have.
We know that we have some time to come up with alternatives. That means, the sooner we start the more time we will have to reach good results. My focus will continue to be on our area and what will work here. My interest is always what is best for Cypress Hills-Grasslands and our people.
We should get the process started. I have suggested to several Advisory Committee members that they should have a discussion with their pasture patrons and come up with a range of possible alternative and potential solutions for their particular pasture. I will be glad to meet in the May break week with any Advisory Committees that wishes to meet. We can start to get some understanding of the direction that each pasture would like to take. There are a wide variety of possibilities - it may be that different pastures will come with some very different suggestions. Starting early allows us a chance to come up with workable, practical alternative as we work towards a future resolution.
Wherever possible I believe we should work towards local ownership and local control of these pastures. I have always believed that local decision making is better and more responsive than centralization.