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Beyond private and public: models of agricultural grazing land tenure and access in the Prairie provinces

Authors: Naomi Beingessner*, University of Manitoba
Topics: Land Use, Rural Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: land sovereignty, prairies, property relations, farmland
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The majority of farmland in North America will change hands in the next two decades (Ruhf, 2013), which raises important questions about ownership and access to land and the social and ecological consequences. Critics of private property characterize it as exploitive and unethical in its unequal distribution of power and argue it inadequately accounts for public rights and responsibilities and community interests. In the Canadian prairies, against the dominant form of private farmland ownership with trends of increasing consolidation and financialization, there is a legacy of successful public and collective land models that have attempted (and occasionally succeeded) to gain legitimacy. Going beyond the conception of land as commodity, their objectives contain elements of public good or collective interest such as environmental preservation, community sustainability, or support for young farmers.

This paper presents preliminary results from interviews with participants in alternative land tenure/access models (e.g. land cooperatives, land/conservation trusts, non-profit partnerships) in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta and critical discourse analysis of related grey literature and policies. I investigate the benefits, viability, and policy implications of these alternative models. How and what can an understanding of how these models are shaped, contested, and legitimized (Blomley, 2013; Rose, 1994; Sikor & Lund, 2009) reveal about changing property relations? As property relations include values, beliefs, norms, social conventions, and legal protection, they operate ideologically, discursively, and materially. An investigation of these operations in Prairie alternative tenure/access models reveals the potential for transformative change in a hegemonic situation of private property.

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