by BETTER FARMING STAFF
A research station that was a centre of tobacco research in its heyday is another victim in a round of service cuts and layoffs at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.
Work done at the Southern Crop Protection and Food Research Centre’s 60-hectare satellite station in Delhi “will be consolidated at other locations where there is a critical mass of expertise and administrative support,” wrote Patrick Girard, an AAFC spokesperson, in an email Friday.
The AAFC’s website indicates one research scientist and two biologists work out of the station. Among their areas of expertise are: management of carbon and nitrogen in soils, sweet potato production, including development of greenhouse practices and cultivar improvement, and pesticide minor use. The federal website says the station currently supports research “in the area of air, water and soil nutrients, and integrated pest management. It is also one of nine national field sites within AAFC that supports the Minor Use Pesticide Program.”
Aylmer farmer Mark Wales, president of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture and a former tobacco grower, says the station has been at risk ever since the wind down of the province’s tobacco industry. He adds that having the station so close to a provincial research station in Simcoe and doing similar work has been “very difficult.”
Nevertheless, the Delhi station became a “showcase for alternative crops,” he says, adding it’s “a shame” another long-term use couldn’t be found. “There are lots of good facilities there. There are lots of good laboratories. It has a long history in the community.”
While there may be an opportunity for the local agriculture industry to do something with the Delhi station, he notes that “sometimes unfortunately when government shuts things down, they shackle whoever wants to do something with it with too many burdens.”
Wales says the federal government, which announced in its March budget a $309 million cut to its agriculture and agri-food portfolio over the next three years, is “doing a lot of things here without any proper long term planning.” He cites the cutting of the provincial agricultural adaptation councils as an example.
Wales notes that the federal government initially created the adaptation councils because they realized they couldn’t deliver the funding effectively from a centralized location. “It’s much more efficient and better and cheaper to do it locally and that’s a shame.”
A spokesperson with the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada Union says 67 of its members in Ontario were affected by cuts announced this week at AAFC and 163 Ontario members in cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, with the majority occurring in the Ottawa region. The union represents government professionals such as scientists and health professionals. In the CFIA it represents mainly veterinarians.
In his email, Girard said; “with changes in its science focus and structure, AAFC will close some farms, while retaining a solid network of scientists and technicians working in more than 50 research centres, labs, farms and outreach offices across the country.
“We understand that employees and communities will be affected by these closures and these were tough choices to make. Our priority as a department, though, must be to focus our resources where they can have the biggest impact for farmers and the agricultural sector.” BF