“Many urbanites influencing policy do not have any clue as to the costs we must bear”
The Alberta Grazing Leaseholders Association (AGLA) has focused on a few key issues that we have been attempting to address. Some board members and leaseholders have been attending meetings that are defining the parameters for the Land-Use Framework set up by Sustainable Resource Development (SRD) Minister Ted Morton.
This exercise is critical to agriculture’s ability to survive and not be crushed by regulatory burden or environmental nonsense. I would encourage all leaseholders to become aware of the implications to their operations locally and to industry in general and make your voice heard. At the moment the focus is on the South Saskatchewan region, but it will shift upon completion. We are fortunate to have some agricultural representation on the steering committees, but if we are not vigilant the potential is immense to be overrun by those who have no practical understanding of what makes agriculture work and the economics behind it.
The AGLA board and the steering committee, which includes membership from the Western Stock Growers Association and Alberta Beef Producers, have continued to work with senior staff in SRD to manage the proposed change in the rental rate system on Public Land under agricultural disposition. Last year’s AGM saw a presentation on the Royalty Review. We have reached the stage where we have asked Minister Morton to proceed with the changes.
As a brief overview, the rationale for the changes are that the present system is archaic; it has previously been deemed countervailable; and if we do not help influence the change positively, it will be forced upon us without consultation. By moving to a market-based formula with adjustments and considerations for production and capital costs that were determined in our 2006 Grazing Lease Cost Study, we align ourselves with the rest of the resource users in Alberta, thereby deflecting much of the countervail potential from R-CALF and the U.S. Department of Commerce. By establishing a base rent that is lower than what we are presently paying, but recognizing we can increase the rent when prices improve, we have a template that shares the risks and rewards with government. Government will have a reduced rental income as long as the market remains weak, but will share in the profitability as our markets improve.
Coupled with this change is the removal of the Assignment Fees, which vary across the province, but are an unfair tax on leaseholders. In our best estimates, the revenue to the provincial government will be roughly the same as it is now over a 10-year average.
Recreational access continues to garner some attention. We have a wide range of experiences that are largely positive on the side of Bill 16 part B (Recreational Access Regulation) which deals with recreational access. While there are some things we would like to see changed in the legislation, we feel that it presently works well enough to recommend a five-year extension to the existing regulations rather than open it up for another free-for-all with the recreational/environmental crowd. We have seen a number of trespass charges successfully brought forward under the Specified Penalties section of the regulations and have at least one court case backing up the validity of the present rules for leaseholders against a hunter claiming ignorance.
We will work with the department to fine-tune some other aspects that we are not as comfortable with pertaining to particular decisions and attitudes put forth by some areas’ local settlement officers. These are generally in response to a complaint from a recreational user. We believe that the key message everyone needs to remember is that these lands have an agricultural priority, and we need to be able to make a living in some very trying times. To ask us to dilute our ability to manage or focus on efficiency and economics without compensation is going to meet with a lot of resistance.
Another issue that we have had to deal with is the issue of large numbers of predators and their impact on our bottom line. This issue is largely attributed to wolves but also includes grizzly bears in some areas. In an effort to appear environmentally friendly, we have forgotten much of what our ancestors learned about taking care of problems that negatively impact our businesses. Many urbanites influencing policy do not have any clue as to the costs we must bear, or the inhumane abuse being forced on our livestock, resulting from changes in policies.
Some of us have taken the initial steps in educating the general public and infuriating the Defenders of Wildlife. This group as well as various others in the U.S., are doing their best to block efforts by both the courts and livestock producers to salvage what is left of a rancher’s way of life, since the Endangered Species Act imposed a wolf reintroduction program on them. Thank goodness wolves are not on that list up here, but none the less some of the same emotional rhetoric is heard without a practical understanding of the problem, and very little economic skin in the game.
We expect all of us, as agricultural producers, will have to stand up for what is right and not let the environmentalists mislead the general public on this or any other issue.
I hope that you will be able to attend our AGM in Wainwright on February 24. The AGLA is a volunteer grassroots organization that only works with the input and support of our membership.