November 25th, 2020

UCP job cuts in ag research deal major blow to Lethbridge, Brooks and Alberta’s future E

By Ryan Dahlman Alberta Newspaper Group on October 24, 2020.

The Alberta provincial government has been talking about cuts to the civil service for a while and it has now hit agriculture.

The Lethbridge Research Centre, which is the district office for Alberta Agriculture and the Crop Diversification Centre South (CDCS) in Brooks had an undisclosed number of employees lose their jobs Wednesday. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees announced that the government was eliminating 930 public service jobs, including agriculture workers in both centres.

The move looks to coincide with a mid-October announcement as part of a $2-million agreement, when Lethbridge College took over management of the Alberta Irrigation Technology Centre (Lethbridge) and the greenhouse at the CDCS.

There is no confirmed number about the number of Alberta Agriculture positions eliminated but Justin Laurence, press secretary for Ag and Forestry minister Devin Dreeshen, released this statement: “Agriculture and Forestry takes program delivery transformation seriously. After careful consideration, difficult decisions were made. Adjustments will not negatively impact our core businesses and legislative responsibilities for food safety, animal disease, animal health, investment attraction activities, or trade access for commodities. Ensuring that programs are sustainable, now and in the future, will protect our world-leading agriculture and forestry sectors. Due to confidentiality reasons, we are unable to share the number of positions impacted at these locations.”

One of the people affected by the layoff notices was saddened by the news. The person, who Alberta Newspapers is not identifying, said a lot of beneficial work was done by researchers at both centres.

“I am not sure if the farming community knows what was lost on Wednesday (Oct. 21). With the firings of the research part of Alberta Agriculture, we have lost the ability to do research that could change farming practices, deal with animal health issues, develop and test new varieties or add value to the farm gate product,” explains the worker. “Our researchers had links with other researchers outside of Alberta Agriculture from across the province, country, indeed the world. Why is this important? To adapt a practice from other jurisdictions and take a team approach to a problem.

“Unfortunately this loss will not be felt for two or five or even 10 years. And our research was “farmer-led” as farmer groups funded the work, and we developed projects that answered questions that farmers were asking us. It is indeed a sad time.”

Plant pathologist Ron Howard, who is co-owner of RJH Research Solutions Ltd. based in Brooks, says while he is deeply saddened by the news, he wasn’t surprised. The writing was on the wall for provincial research stations. Howard had spent 39 years in Brooks at a variety of levels and roles including director for a few years. He says the current government doesn’t see the value in paying for research projects. The government launched an initiative called the Result Driven Agriculture Research. He says a 12-person committee was given a year to come up with a strategy and a new mandate. They didn’t waste much time in going in and eliminating positions.

“It is so sad to see such a proud institution crumbling away and being eroded away by staff abolishment,” explains Howard who still keeps tabs on the CDCS even though he has been retired since 2014. “They telegraphed there were going to be reductions in staff and programs. We didn’t know how quick it would be extensive it would be, that was surprising how extensive it was. The government was signalling for a year or more that the research model for agriculture … particularly involved in ministry was broken.

“The government had partnered with crop and livestock organizations with different research projects. The current government and the minister seemed to have the idea that Alberta Agriculture should not be leading research direction.”

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