NDP slips ALMA into ag department to cut costs

The end of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency has created a wave of shock and questions about the future of support for the sector.

ALMA, along with a number of other agencies is being dissolved following the release of the NDP government budget on April 14 to shave costs.

“It’s about a cost-saving measure, not about the work that ALMA has done, but important to note that the work that they are doing will, in the most part, still be continued but now it will be more of a direct contact between the stakeholders and government and not through an agency per se,” said Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.

The decision is expected to save about $3 million per year and Alberta Agriculture will take over many of ALMA’s former duties, including funding research, market development and support for innovative projects. Some staff will be moved to the department said the minister.

About $20 million has been budgeted to continue the work.

He said existing projects will stay and future projects will be examined on a case-by-case basis.

“A lot of the staff that are with ALMA are going to be rolled into the department but there is going to be some job loss,” he said.

The transition will take place over the next few months.

The decision to close the agency was a surprise although it was known the government was reviewing many boards and commissions, said ALMA chair David Chalack of Cochrane.

“It is regrettable because we certainly had a highly performing board and staff. We were very committed to growing the livestock industry over the last six years since its inception,” he said.

When the organization was formed in 2009 during the Ed Stelmach premiership, it was received with doubt and criticism.

Over time it became a one-stop shop for researchers and private companies seeking funds for a range of projects from animal production, marketing and food processing.

ALMA worked with about 100 stakeholders and last year handled about 200 projects and contributed $28.5 million that was leveraged to about $170 million with matching grants from other areas.

“Over the six years we were very close to $1 billion leveraged funding in the industry and academic institutions,” Chalak said.

Universities and other research groups have been contacting him to learn what may happen with their projects.

Commodity groups like Alberta Beef Producers and Alberta Pork have partnered with ALMA on research and marketing projects and they want assurances that projects committed to research will continue.

ALMA had a broad reach and worked with every one in the supply chain, said Darcy Fitzgerald, manager of Alberta Pork and former manager of the Livestock Industry Development Fund.

“We really do need that kind of seed money for the industry to advance us and some innovative things that we might not normally be able to do,” he said.

Alberta Beef Producers were opposed to the concept when it was first announced in 2009 but over time became partners with ALMA. Now the organization may have to shift its budget to align with what is available.

“We have got along well with ALMA. We think they have been a big benefit to the industry. We will have to wait and see how it turns out under the department,” said Bob Lowe, ABP chair.

ALMA formed a $950,000 strategic arrangement with the beef producers on a major forage research project. It also provided support for the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a pilot for sustainable beef supply by 2016, biodiversity assessment, and ecosystem valuation of grasslands.

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