By Harry Siemens – Midland MLA Blaine Pedersen is Manitoba’s new Minister of Agriculture and Resource Development replacing Lakeside MLA Ralph Eichler, who is the new Minister of Economic Development and Training, a new department.
“It’s exciting, but it is much more than agriculture,” said Pederson only hours after his swearing-in as the new Minister of Ag. “And for a long time we’ve realized that in agriculture many farmers are not just dealing with the agriculture department, but they’re dealing a lot with what is sustainable development in terms of water management and conservation. Besides agriculture, I also bring the mining and petroleum division from growth, enterprise and trade. It will not all be in my new department, but I also have fish and wildlife, I’ve got forestry, watershed districts, conservation trusts, and also taking on the crown lands.”
He said the idea is to make it better, more accessible for the agricultural community, for the natural resource community, mining, petroleum, fishing, wildlife. Because in terms of permitting and all those things, these fit together.
The Crownland issue has cattlemen nervous, to say the least, as it pertains to recent changes announced by the Pallister government. Some of those changes, still some outstanding issues, have cattle producers concerned about how the young ranchers will deal with those changes in the future.
“Yes, there are some challenges there, especially an outdated system with a tremendous amount of crown land tied up by leases not used and needed updating,” said the new ag minister. “I’m not going to over promise and under deliver, but I understand there are concerns, particularly with young producers who we want to keep in the business. We want everybody to stay in business but particularly young ranchers who need that sense of security moving forward in terms of pasture and succession planning for those who are looking for farm succession plans. I’ll have a look at it but can’t promise instant solutions.”
Pederson is also in charge of drainage, a massive issue if not done right.
“We’ve made some changes in the tile drainage speeding up the permitting and reducing the backlog in granting permits for installing tile drainage,” he said. “But also we’ve changed the onus off of downstream people having the ability to say no to an upstream drain tile proposal when it did not affect their land. Everybody had the automatic ability to say no. We’ve made some changes bringing this into one department that will help streamline this to make sure that all sides are aware of what’s going on. There still has to be some semblance of permits and making sure that there is a coordinated drainage plan. That’s what we’re looking for when it’s all in one department.”
With the challenging year brought on by first dryness, then heavy rains, and the Thanksgiving weekend massive snowfall, the Crop Insurance portfolio will need extra attention.
Pederson said the most important here is the information that needs to come from farmers, Keystone Agricultural Producers, and the government department looking after the Crop Insurance program.
“We’ve come through three years of drought, and now there’s lots of talk about flood. But, one month of rain does not make a flood per se in the longterm,” he said. “It sure caused some challenges right now and getting the crop off, and it’s across the province too despite farmers in The Pas and the Carrot River Valley had got their harvest off, and it’s one of their best harvests ever. They certainly need it because the last three years have just been tough for those people in the Carrot River Valley. A producer from Dauphin told me a lot of the crop is off there, so it varies across the province.”
With the wet snow, heavy rains and wet crops coming off, grain dryers are an essential tool of storing that grain safely. Jason Klassen of Wentworth Ag near Winkler said it isn’t near as trying to get grain dryers inspected and okayed for on-farm use.
“It’s a longstanding issue getting grain dryers certified in Manitoba. Everybody understands there has to be safety involved and that they need certification,” said Mr. Pederson. “My last report shows the office of the fire commissioner doing as many as two to three certifications a day and many of them under two weeks. That’s just a lot better than what it was. I had some staff in a department in the office of the fire commissioner who understood that there was a problem, and they took it on, and it’s working much better.”