4-H Canada forced to lay off staff following major federal funding cut

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4-H Canada says it has had to make the difficult decision to lay off seven staff members following a major cut to the funding it receives from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The move comes after 4-H Canada was informed mid-way through the fiscal 2023-24 year that its funding under the federal AgriCompetitiveness Program was approved, but at a significantly lower level than requested and past funding. The timing of the news — when the fiscal budget was already in place — created challenges for the organization, says Hugh Maynard, interim CEO.

“Through discussions with the Minister and departmental staff, we have made progress and improvements on what was originally approved, and we are grateful for both the flexibility and the time afforded to exploring options with us,” Maynard says, in an emailed statement to RealAgriculture. “That said, the reduced AAFC funding, combined with other factors has meant that 4-H Canada has had to initiate an organizational reset to ensure capacity to continue to offer the world-class youth leadership programming for which we are known.”

A number of factors related to AAFC impacted the amount of funding 4-H Canada received through the department this year, says 4-H Canada, including changes to government priorities, which attracted increased interest in the program from new applicants and which, in turn, resulted in fewer dollars being available to legacy organizations such as 4-H Canada. In addition, some initiatives that had been traditionally supported – such as the annual Citizenship Congress – were not considered a priority this time around.

This is the first year that project-based funding from a variety of government departments, which had temporarily increased during COVID, is back to pre-pandemic levels, Maynard adds. “Combined, these factors have led 4-H Canada to have to make some difficult decisions, including reducing our staff by seven positions,” he says.

In 2022, then-agriculture minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced $1.8 million over two years for 4-H Canada. In 2019, she announced $3 million for the organization, also under the AgriCompetitiveness program.

“Due to a high volume of ACP applications and 4-H Canada’s funding request exceeding the maximum allowable yearly amount, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has prioritized projects that most closely aligned with program criteria,” says the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food’s office.

“We value 4-H’s contributions and are exploring options to ensure support for any programs that foster youth involvement in agriculture. We continue to offer programs like the Youth Employment and Skills Program, the Student Workplace Placement Program, and AgriTalent to help young people gain valuable experience in the sector.”

Job losses have occurred in all areas of the organization, from administration and sponsorship to communications and programming.

“Obviously, with cuts across the organization there will be impacts, but our main priority is to carry on the legacy of helping 4-H youth “learn to do by doing” and we will use that as our guide as we figure out how to navigate the path forward as a team,” Maynard says.

4-H Canada is grappling with the impact of challenging financial times, Maynard adds. “Our foremost priority, in terms of funding, is to continue to nurture the strong collaborative relationships we already have with different government departments, organizations, agencies, and businesses across the ag sector, and beyond.”

Maynard says that 4-H Canada will be looking at ways to expand partnerships in both the private and public sector as part of its overall strategic and operational assessment that will be undertaken by the board, foundation trustees, and staff later this year.

“This is not the first time in our 111-year history that 4-H Canada has faced challenges, and it may not be the last. The measures that have been taken are designed to ensure continued financial health for 4-H Canada and to support our ability to develop and deliver youth leadership programs and activities that are amongst the best in the world,” Maynard says.

The federal government has been making funding announcements under the Sustainable Canadian Agriculture Partnership (SCAP) over the past few months, as the new five-year framework began on April 1, 2023. A formal announcement with specific dollar amounts regarding federal support for 4-H Canada has not yet been made.

Updated March 16 to include a statement from AAFC.

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