Wheat breeding and pasture programs cut in federal budget

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A major wheat-breeding centre, community pastures, co-operatives and a shelterbelt program are among major casualties from cuts to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in the federal budget earlier this month.

The Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg, which has been home to some of AAFC’s largest wheat- and oat-breeding programs, will be closed by 2014.

According to Richard Phillips, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, who was briefed by AAFC officials, 41 positions out of about 100 will be cut, including four research scientists. The rest of the positions will move to newer facilities in Morden, Man. and Brandon, Man.

Stephen Morgan Jones, AAFC’s director general for science partnerships, said infrastructure should not be confused with research priorities.

“I don’t think it’s a secret… the centre in Winnipeg is a facility that has probably gone 10 years past its useful life,” he said.

“There just wasn’t $150 million available to go out and rebuild or replace the structure in Winnipeg.”

The research centre started as the Dominion Rust Research Laboratory in 1925 at the University of Manitoba, and later became known as “The Rust Lab” for its work in developing varieties resistant to devastating rust outbreaks of the last century.

Wheat breeding, genomics and disease resistance, including work on Ug99, a virulent wheat rust, will continue at AAFC’s Morden facility, he said. Oat breeding and the rest of the centre’s plant pathology research will move to AAFC’s Brandon Research Centre.

Morgan Jones said AAFC will focus on germplasm development, and selling new wheat lines to private companies before the commercialization stage.

“We believe there is an opportunity for the private sector… to run that type of work probably more cost effectively than we can and then we can really put our emphasis on making more crosses and doing what we call the public good stuff like keeping rust resistance genes available in our varieties so there is long-term protection in the industry,” he said.

“I think the fact that we haven’t had a serious outbreak of rust for over 50 years in Western Canada is a tribute to our investment in upstream plant disease work has been effective.”

AAFC also says it will close the smaller research farms over the next 12 to 18 months, including Fort Vermilion, Alta., Bouctouche, N.B., Frelighsburg, Que., Lévis (Chapais), Que., Delhi, Ont., Kapuskasing, Ont. and Regina, Sask.

Community pastures

The Agri-Environment Services Branch, formerly known as PFRA will be absorbed by the new Science and Technology Branch. The Agri-Environment Services Branch operates 85 pastures in Western Canada totalling 930,000 acres. According to the government website there are two in Alberta, 24 in Manitoba and 61 in Saskatchewan.

An AAFC official said the following seven Agri-Environment Services Branch field locations will close in the next 12 to 18 months: Dawson Creek, B.C., Medicine Hat, Alta., Vegreville, Alta., Hanna, Alta., Gravelbourg, Sask., Rosetown, Sask., and Moose Jaw, Sask.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Co-operative Association says Ottawa is dropping its Co-operative Development Initiative (CDI), a program that’s backed new and emerging co-operatives since 2003.

Shelterbelts

Ottawa is also closing its shelterbelt tree nursery at Indian Head, which has operated since 1901. Local officials hope it will be privatized.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz justified the cuts, saying farmers don’t farm now like they did 100 years ago and that shelterbelts are no longer needed to control soil erosion.

“And it’s time to take a long, hard look and refocus the energies and dollars of Agriculture Canada… and what way best builds the future for today’s producers,’’ Ritz was quoted as saying by the Canadian Press.

AAFC’s Rural and Co-operatives Secretariat, which administers programs related to co-operatives, will be significantly reduced in size.

“We view this as a lack of recognition of the importance of co-operatives in job creation and economic growth in this country,” Brigitte Gagné, executive director of the Conseil canadien de la cooperation et de la mutualité, said in the association’s release.

“Farmers and the industry will benefit from this change, which will simplify the application process and reduce paperwork and other redundancies, while reducing costs.”

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