Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Do all patrons and livestock producers approve?

these pasture signs will be coming down year by year as the pastures are transferred to the province

Given the way the media has covered but mostly ignored the PFRA community pastures debate in this province, it is easy to assume that rural people, the current PFRA patrons, and livestock producers are all happy as clams with the plan that the Department of Agriculture has announced. That plan, of course, is to either sell or lease, to private individuals and consortiums, all 62 pastures, totalling more than 1.6 million acres of some of the most ecologically important grasslands on the northern Great Plains.

The minister of Agriculture, Lyle Stewart, says he has consulted with the cattle industry and the former PFRA grazing patrons, and the plan was devised by an advisory committee made up of such people. All is well, we are assured.

Today I spoke on the phone with a PFRA pasture patron who says that many people who raise livestock in Saskatchewan are not happy with the plan to sell or lease. Her name is Joanne Brochu and she and her husband are mixed farmers near the town of Colonsay.

“We have 146 head, a cow-calf operation," Joanne said, "but we only have five of our own grazing quarters so we need access to the community pasture.” For the last five years, the Brochus have been sending eighty to ninety head to the Hazel Dell PFRA pasture for much of the grazing season.

western kingbird
“If we lose access to that pasture, we will have no choice but to reduce our herd, and if that happens we will have to figure out if it's worth staying in cattle at all. I suspect when we do the math, it won’t be.”

When she heard that the federal pasture system was being dismantled, Joanne started doing some research into its history. “I don’t think I really appreciated the pastures and their role, what they have accomplished over the years.”

As an active member of the Saskatchewan Cattlemen's Association (SCA), Joanne speaks to other producers and she knows she is not the only one who likes the PFRA model, with well-managed pastures that remain in government hands to ensure fair allotment.

She told me that most of the ranchers and mixed farmers she speaks to would prefer the province retained ownership of the pastures as they are transferred from federal control. And they would like them to be managed under some kind of structure that suits the needs of the whole grazing community and not merely a few privileged owners and lessees. After doing some talking and research, Joanne drafted up a resolution for the Sask. Cattlemen's Association (SCA) that calls for just such a plan.

“It's been busy so I’ve only had time to have it presented at meetings for three of the nine SCA districts,” Joanne said, “but it passed at all three and in my district where I was able to be there to count the votes, it passed by a vote of eighteen to five. That's a pretty strong majority in my books.”

[Note: Please have a look at Joanne's comment below which she sent in after I posted this story--some very cogent remarks about the larger cultural and community effects of selling the pastures.]

Here is the actual wording from Joanne’s resolution: “BE IT RESOLVED that Saskatchewan Cattleman’s Association lobby the Province of Saskatchewan to retain ownership of the federally transitioned pastures and assist with the development of a pasture lands management structure to ensure the pastures continue to serve local producers and communities, and operate on a cost recovery basis.”

Ok, so thirty per cent of the districts of the SCA pass a strong resolution that calls on the SCA to lobby the government to retain ownership of the pastures, and one hundred per cent of those who considered Joanne’s resolution passed it. And yet, we hear that the livestock industry supports the existing plan. In fact, the SCA executive put out a press release endorsing the planned sale or lease of the first ten pastures on October 19, the same day the government made its announcement.

What is going on here? Just what do we mean when we say "livestock industry" anyway, and does it really speak with one voice? If there is a disconnect between what the "industry leaders" are saying and what the guys who get up in the middle of the night at calving time are saying, then what is causing it?

And why do we only hear from those who approve the province's plan? Why are we not hearing from the cattle producers and other rural folks who want the pastures retained and well-managed under the public trust? I will try to answer some of those questions in my next post.


  1. Trevor this issue touches on far more than just the patrons. As anyone who has delved into the history of these pastures knows it greatly affects not only us as patrons but how it all inter-twines with the environmental,wildlife and PFRA employee cultural issues. I hold these employees in high regard,they are not only some of the best cowboys we have left but they are first and foremost stewards of the land. They have a job to do and they do it well. Managing the livestock season to season while long term foresight and planning for the Pasture Lands.
    These are not the cowboys you might see on T.V., they are the people with children in our communities, coaches, volunteers, board members, and employees who support local businesses. As are the people who acquire their services.
    Will the livestock industry in our Province suffer when all this is gone? It will definately cull the smaller producers and the PFRA employees, which in turn will effect our schools, our businesses, and our communities. Joanne

  2. Wow--thanks Joanne. That pretty well says it all. Looking forward to meeting you and hearing you speak at our forum on November 23rd!

  3. We are deeply concerned about the potentially loss of such importnt sites for grassland Species At Risk... hoping, perhaps against hope, that better stewardship will come of this.

  4. Me too, Christian, me too. Manitoba seems to have made a better decision by promising to at not sell any of the pastures. Stewardship though remains to be seen.


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