UPDATED – January 7, 2021 – 1335 CST – The Manitoba government will close agriculture and crop insurance offices in 21 towns as part of a department restructuring and new service model.
Agriculture minister Blaine Pedersen announced the changes yesterday afternoon.
The press release for the announcement suggests that Manitoba Agriculture will provide more services online, rather than in person.
“Meeting the needs of our clients with professional knowledge, current research and data, connections to appropriate links, and timely, unbiased information has always been a priority for our department,” Pedersen said in the release.
“The array of services that will be provided online, by telephone or in-person at agricultural service centres throughout the province, will offer producers a convenient and client-focused means to access the programs and services that are available to them.”
Manitoba Agriculture and Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. offices will be closed in the following towns:
• Fisher Branch
• Pilot Mound
• Shoal Lake
• St. Pierre Jolys
• Ste. Rose du Lac
The closures will affect dozens of Manitoba Agriculture employees.
The press release didn’t explain if there will be layoffs or if all employees will be transferred to new locations. It also didn’t mention the cost savings associated with the closures.
Under the re-structuring, 17 offices will deliver services for Manitoba Agriculture and MASC.
The province noted that:
• Ten agricultural service centres will provide insurance, lending, farmland school tax rebate and wildlife damage compensation services; handling of licensing and permits applications; and agriculture and resource development program information.
• Five centres will focus on resource management.
• Two centres will focus on mineral or petroleum services.
The 10 ag centres will be in Arborg, Brandon, Dauphin, Headingley, Killarney, Morden, Neepawa, Portage la Prairie, Steinbach and Swan River.
The province will maintain Manitoba Agriculture offices in nine communities — Beausejour, Carberry, Carman, Melita, Minnedosa, Neepawa, Portage, Roblin and Virden — but those locations will not be open to the public
The new service model will include an “interactive online chat program.”
Through that, Manitoba Agriculture clients can access “real-time assistance from a smartphone, tablet, computer or through a toll-free number.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers said more online forms and applications are helpful, but some services cannot be duplicated on a computer screen.
“The ability to access quality services, reliable information and speak with specialists is essential to the strength of Manitoba’s agriculture sector,” said KAP president Bill Campbell.
“The opportunity to speak face-to-face with specialists is essential. This will be more challenging for many producers, particularly in western Manitoba.”
Campbell said in a statement that KAP was assured the changes will “not impact staffing levels.”
However, the organization would like more information on the new service model and wants to be consulted about the development of online tools.
The proposed closures to Manitoba Agriculture offices are scheduled for April 1.