Alberta gov’t cuts staff, budgets at Ag-Info centre

Service changes at the Alberta Agriculture Ag-Info Centre were made last week with no formal announcement from the department.

An unconfirmed number of non-union specialists in crop production, beef and forage production, farm management and special crops production were given notice.

Alberta Agriculture did not confirm the staff departures, numbers or reasons for the moves when queried by The Western Producer.

In a memo to various provincial commodity groups issued March 11, acting assistant deputy minister Katrina Bluetchen, of the agriculture department, said the centre will no longer offer crop, livestock or other one-to-one specialist services.

“Effective immediately the centre will focus on providing information about Agriculture and Forestry programs and services and connecting producers with the many non-government resources available to them,” she said in the memo.

Callers to the Ag-Info Centre will instead be directed to other information sources, she said, and there may be some delays in responding to producer queries “during the transition.”

Adrienne South, press secretary to Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen, said March 13 that she was unable to provide specific details on who was fired out of respect for privacy.

“We will continue to ensure farmers have access to the information they need. The Ag-Info Centre will continue to be staffed and respond to calls and emails,” South said in an email.

“Food safety, animal and crop health, and allowing farmers to set research priorities are our main focus. Wherever possible, we will direct callers to organizations who are better positioned to answer the types of questions we’re getting.”

The 310-FARM phone number remains in service but callers are directed to other sources of information rather than speaking with specialists formerly on staff.

About 50 agriculture extension staff and managers were terminated or given notice in December. Further layoffs of Alberta Agriculture union personnel are expected in April, sources said.

The department held a number of meetings earlier this year to discuss the future of agriculture research and an announcement is expected soon.

“Something that we campaigned on in the last election was a move away from what the previous government did towards government-led research and government priority research (and move toward) farmer-led research. So in changing that mindset, it has opened up this research consultation,” Dreeshen said about those meetings.

Several Alberta Agriculture staff contacted by the Producer expressed worry about the future of their jobs, noting the department is not a pleasant place to work at present because of the uncertainty.

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