Research stations hit by cuts

Facilities consolidated | Several western Canadian sites will be closed

Agriculture Canada will close some of its research operations in Western Canada and consolidate others as part of an ongoing effort to reduce costs and build a leaner, more efficient research organization, federal officials said this week.

Last week, Ottawa issued potential job loss notices to 350 Agriculture Canada employees across Canada, including 125 in Western Canada.

Among other measures, Agriculture Canada will:

  • Consolidate national beef research operations in Western Canada.
  • Consolidate dairy research activities at Lennoxville, Que.
  • Discontinue the dairy science program at the Agassiz, B.C., research centre.
  • Close a pair of Agriculture Canada research stations based at One Four and Stavely, Alta., and transfer that work to the Semi-Arid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre (SPARC) at Swift Current, Sask.
  • Close former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) offices in Dauphin, Man., Beausejour Man., Westlock, Alta., Red Deer, Alta., Peace River, Alta., Melville, Sask., Watrous, Sask., North Battleford, Sask., and Weyburn, Sask.

In a May 13 email to the Western Producer, Agriculture Canada officials emphasized that the steps were aimed at reducing duplication, containing costs and providing more flexible cost-shared programs that are tailored to meet local needs.

“We continue to maintain core activities where government has a unique role and adds value and are working collaboratively with our partners so that producers and processors can gain maximum returns from the market,” the email said.

According to a May 9 news release issued by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), the workforce adjustments announced by Ottawa are principally focused in Agriculture Canada’s science and technology branch and the market and industry services branch.

Affected employees include 144 commerce officers, 79 scientists, 76 information technology (IT) specialists, 29 engineers, 14 biologists, five research managers and three procurement officers.

Geographically, 125 of the 350 affected employees — about 35 percent — are employed at research facilities in Western Canada, including 33 in Manitoba, 49 in Saskatchewan, 21 in Alberta and 22 in British Columbia.

Across the West, Agriculture Canada operates eight research centres in Summerland and Agassiz, B.C., Lacombe and Lethbridge, Alta., Saskatoon and Swift Current, Sask., Brandon, Man., and Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg centre is slated for closure in 2014.

Agriculture Canada also manages field sites and research stations at Melfort, Sask., Scott, Sask., , Outlook, Sask., Morden, Man., Onefour, Alta., Vauxhall, Alta., Stavely, Alta., and Beaverlodge, Alta.

Consolidation of Agriculture Canada’s operations will affect various operations in the West although it could be months before the full extent of the consolidations are known.

In Brandon, research related to beef grazing systems will be moved to Lacombe, which will focus on research related to cow-calf operations, forage production and beef-fed systems.

Researchers at Lethbridge will focus on finishing feedlot cattle.

Rangeland research based at Lethbridge will be relocated to Swift Current.

Agriculture Canada will continue to conduct research in agricultural water processes but will reduce water engineering activities and associated transfer technology programming where private sector expertise exists.

All told, Agriculture Canada research facilities employed roughly 1,350 people in Western Canada as of late 2012.

Last week’s notices will affect close to 10 percent of the department’s Western Canadian workforce.

In 2012, similar notices were issued to 150 Agriculture Canada employees.

Those cuts prompted the closure of the Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, the retirement of numerous senior researchers and the relocation of other staff to research facilities in Morden, Man.