Alberta government "getting out of" agriculture research with latest staff cuts: former researcher


This week marks a “difficult” time in Alberta for the public sector working in agriculture.

By the end of this week, it’s estimated that over 250 people will have lost — or will be in the process of losing — their jobs with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, with the layoffs being on the agriculture side.

In February, the United Conservative (UCP) government issued its annual budget, and stated that 277 Alberta Agriculture employees would be cut, saving the government about $22 million in budget. The number represents almost half of the staff that were employed at the start of the year.

Fifty-one people with Alberta Agriculture saw their jobs terminated in December. Each had to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) making it virtually impossible for them to talk about what had happened without fear of losing their severance package, according to multiple sources.

A similar situation is occurring this week, with a larger number of employees.

Ross McKenzie, retired soil research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, says the first twelve people confirmed to be part of this round of layoffs are based at the Stettler Agri-Centre. From his perspective, and based on conversations with many former co-workers, McKenzie estimates there will be 250 layoffs over the next few days across Alberta.

The real question: what is driving these layoffs? Is it strictly budgetary, or are there more factors at work here?

“It’s a combination of a few things. I think, number one, the present Minister of Agriculture just wants to get out of doing research, to get out of doing extension. He wants us to move to the private sector. So I think that’s kind of their philosophy, and that’s my guess,” McKenzie says.

In terms of whether the cuts are financially driven, McKenzie isn’t so sure.

“The Minister also announced a new program called Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), and that group has been given $37 million dollars for this year, and will get $37 million over the next three years to promote agricultural research in Alberta, but it will be done, I suppose, through the private sector, and possibly through education institutions,” says McKenzie. “So on one hand they are going to save the $22 million, but on the other hand they are going to spend $37 million. So in fact it can’t be money saved, it’s going to cost them another $15 million a year to spend on the program and what they are doing now.”

Justin Lawrence, press secretary to Minster Dreeshen, says that the government takes program delivery seriously.

“After careful consideration, difficult decisions were made,” Lawrence says in a statement emailed to RealAgriculture. “Ensuring that programs are sustainable, now and in the future, will protect our world-leading agriculture and forestry sectors.”

Check out the full conversation between Ross McKenzie and RealAgriculture’s Kara Oosterhuis, below:

Related reporting and interviews:

“Farmer-led” research, dispelling modern ag myths set as priorities for Alberta’s ag minister

Alberta rolls out revamped ag research funding and delivery model

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