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Farmer unable to sell grain frustrated with Saskatchewan over land lease

REGINA - A Saskatchewan farmer is taking issue with the province after getting a letter saying that the government was going to cancel the lease on land he has farmed for about 40 years.

Darcy Livingston says he owed $5,700 in December. But like many Prairie farmers, his grain is sitting in bins because of railway transportation delays.

"Well, we just haven't been able to sell any grain since harvest, so I was kind of short of cash," said the 64-year-old who farms in Sintaluta, about 86 kilometres east of Regina.

Livingston is upset because earlier this month, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart wrote to banks urging them to be flexible with farmers facing a cash crunch.

Stewart said at the time that he thought the banks would recognize there's a lot of value in the grain in those bins.

"I was kind of surprised because they're talking about telling the lenders to work with the farmers to help ride this thing through and then the government itself sends a letter to cancel your lease on the land," said Livingston.

"It's not like they're lending us money. All they're doing is giving us a little more time until we can get some grain out."

Livingston says he offered to make a down payment of $2,000, but was told no. He ended up having to borrow the money from his brother to keep the land.

Stewart says about 46 of 8,600 producers haven't paid. But he insists the government is being flexible.

"These leases were due Dec. 1 and the grain movement slowdown didn't start until after that, so most producers have made arrangements to pay and I think anybody that's really interested in farming the land probably can find a way to get it paid in the next couple of weeks," Stewart told reporters at the legislature.

"And we're willing to continue to work with them."

The government said in an email to media late Monday that no Crown leases have been cancelled. The email said the Lands Branch in the Ministry of Agriculture will now give producers until the end of July to pay their lease fees.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan and Alberta on Monday called for tougher federal laws for the grain transportation system.

An emergency order earlier this month from the federal government set minimum targets for railways of 11,000 cars a week and fines of up to $100,000 per day for failing to meet those targets.

Saskatchewan says upcoming federal legislation should set a minimum of 13,000 grain cars per week and bump up the penalty to $250,000 per day. Saskatchewan and Alberta both say money collected should benefit the farmers instead of landing in the federal coffers.

Alberta also says there should be increased rail track access so grain shippers can receive competitive service from more than one rail company.

"The livelihoods of our producers and our international reputation rely on the timely and efficient transport of all of our goods to market," Alberta Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said in a news release Monday.

"We need greater financial accountability that is more equally distributed in the supply chain, and increased competition between rail carriers as an incentive for better performance."

The legislation is expected to be tabled when Parliament returns next week.

The Manitoba government chimed in Monday, saying it has secured a promise from the head of Canadian Pacific Railway to try to move more grain through the port at Thunder Bay, Ont.

Manitoba Transportation Minister Steve Ashton says he has spoken on the telephone with CP CEO Hunter Harrison. Ashton says Harrison has agreed to intervene personally to try to have more grain shipped through Thunder Bay, where there is some unused elevator capacity.

"To have the CEO of CP get personally involved ... is a huge step forward," Ashton said.

— With files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg

The Canadian Press

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