Farm groups disappointed over cutbacks

Farm organizations expressed surprise and disappointment last week at recently announced job cuts, programming changes and facility closures that will affect close to 700 Agriculture Canada employees.

In Alberta, Wild Rose Agricultural Producers president Lynn Jacobson called the changes at Agriculture Canada disappointing and short-sighted, suggesting that reduced spending on federal research programs contradicts what Ottawa has been saying about the importance of research and innovation.

“We’re disappointed that the government is making these types of cuts,” Jacobson said.

“We thought, with the way … the government had set things up in Growing Forward 2 and the references that were made to innovation and investments in research, that we weren’t going to be touched on that end of things, but what Ottawa is saying and what they are practicing are two different things.”

In Manitoba, James Battershill, general manager of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said the announcement from Ottawa came as a surprise to the province and the research community in Brandon, which will see work related to beef grazing systems transferred to Lacombe, Alta.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that at least eight researchers and their families based in Brandon will be faced with a decision to relocate to Alberta or remain in Manitoba and seek other employment.

“We know that the federal government has certain fiscal responsibilities that they have to deal with and these cuts are obviously a part of that,” Battershill said.

“The fact that this came as a big surprise to a lot of people is a little bit of a concern.… We definitely would have liked to have seen more consultation … so if there are negative impacts … or if there are possible ways that we can adapt to it in the near term, the more warning we get the better.”

Battershill said the decision to move beef research programs from Brandon to Lacombe overlooks the fact that unique growing conditions and research needs exist in different parts of the country.

“Sometimes there are unique differences between the provinces, so to have made-in-Manitoba research that responds to Manitoba conditions, that’s also something that’s very important,” he said.

Officials from the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said the changes will expand the scope of research at Agriculture’s Canada’s Swift Current Research Centre, but will hurt other Saskatchewan communities.

APAS president Norm Hall said it is too early to determine the exact impact of the cuts on Saskatchewan’s agriculture sector.

“As they always say, the devil’s in the details,” said Hall.

“It might be good for Swift Current, but I’m not sure that it’s great for … agriculture.”

At least nine former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration offices and two Agriculture Canada research stations are slated for closure.

Former PFRA offices in Dauphin and Beausejour, Man., Melville, Watrous, North Battleford and Weyburn, Sask., and Westlock, Peace River and Red Deer, Alta., will be closing along with research stations at Onefour and Stavely, Alta.

The cuts are part of an ongoing effort by Ottawa to transform the way Agriculture Canada operates and streamline program delivery, the department said in a May 13 email.

In addition to transferring beef grazing research to Lacombe from Brandon, rangeland research at Lethbridge will move to Swift Current, Sask.

Work previously conducted at Onefour, Alta., and Stavely will also be moved to Swift Current.

Officials from Agriculture Canada offered few details about when the facilities will close and what will happen with employees and services at the 11 affected locations.

Affected employees normally have four months to indicate whether they wish to stay within the federal civil service or receive a compensation package and seek employment elsewhere.

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