Farm Focus

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Land grab OK’d

An inquiry officer has ruled in favour of letting the province expropriate about 108 hectares of land from five farmers around Manawan Lake.

Five farmers went head-to-head with Alberta Environment and Ducks Unlimited officials in St. Albert Provincial Court May 25 for an expropriation hearing. Alberta Environment had asked to expropriate about 108 hectares of land from the farmers to protect wildlife habitat at the lake, which is an important bird area. Rex Nielsen, who chaired the hearing, issued his written ruling on June 5.

Manawan Lake is located about five kilometres north of Morinville and is home to many migratory birds. A weir built in 2004 as part of a plan to stabilize lake levels has put some low-lying areas at risk of flooding. The province had obtained about 95 per cent of these at-risk lands, and wants to get the remaining five per cent held by these five farmers to minimize lawsuits from flooding.

“Negotiations between the government and the owners have been limited,” Nielsen writes, “and have not resulted in any meaningful resolution of concerns.” The current owners of the land were good stewards of it, but they would not be able to use it as they have under the province’s current plan for the lake.

The owners of the lands in question have said that they would sign an agreement not to sue the government in case of flooding, he notes, but this would not permanently settle the legal risks involved. He concludes the expropriation is “fair, sound and reasonably necessary,” but also urges the province to grant the farmers “liberal and longer term use” of the affected lands due to the impact it would have on their lives.

Andrew Lutz, who uses about 70 of the affected hectares for hay for his dairy cows, says he’s frustrated with the ruling. “If they take this land they’re destroying our livelihoods,” he said.

Nielsen’s report now goes to the minister of the environment, who will approve, revise, or deny the expropriation.

Alberta beekeepers will soon be able to insure their little buzzers against the winterkill.

Alberta Financial Services Corporation, the Crown corporation that provides crop insurance in the province, is working on an over-wintering insurance program for beekeepers in response to years of heavy bee losses. The program would cover losses from weather, varroa mites and nosema.

Beekeepers have been able to insure their honey for years, says Dean Dyck, the project manager developing the program, but not their bees. A legal barrier meant the corporation could insure crops, such as honey, but not livestock, such as bees. The province recently removed that barrier, so bee insurance can now take off.

This was another tough winter for Alberta’s bees, says Paul Laflamme, head of pest management at Alberta Agriculture. Initial surveys suggest 25 to 30 per cent losses in each hive, far above the norm of 15 to 20 per cent.

“Part of the problem his year has been the cool spring,” Laflamme says, which delayed flower growth and robbed the bees of food. “We still think the major problem is these varroa mites,” he says, referring to a blood-sucking pest that makes bees vulnerable to disease. A new strain of nosema, a fungus that gives bees diarrhea, continues to cause trouble.

Paul Greidanus of Morinville’s Greidanus Apiaries says he lost about 15 per cent of his bees over the winter. Last year, he lost 60 per cent, and had to spend almost $300,000 to replace them.

A bee insurance program would be a fantastic idea, he says, but he wasn’t sure if it would be practical. “I have 5,000 beehives and they’re spread all over the county,” he says. “I could say I have 15 per cent losses, but to verify that takes a lot of time and inspection.”

Dyck says the plan should be ready for launch this fall.

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St. Albert Gazette

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