Albertans fear budget 2020 means hundreds of layoffs in agriculture and research

Alberta budget 2020: major layoffs projected for Alberta agriculture sector
Some agriculture officials are voicing concern over the 277 layoffs announced for Alberta’s agriculture and forestry in Thursday’s budget. Emily Olsen reports.

Thursday’s provincial budget includes big changes for the agriculture industry, which has some Albertans concerned about how cuts will be made and whether current research will be impacted.

The budget indicates that 277 people in permanent positions with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry are facing layoffs.

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Former Alberta Agriculture researcher, Ross McKenzie, says those layoffs could be a huge detriment to the industry as a whole, and to individual farmers, as they could likely be researchers.

“Agriculture is the second-most important industry we have in the province,” McKenzie said. 

“It [has] gross farm sales of about $12 billion per year and that’s very important to the economy of Alberta. The research and extension work that Alberta Agriculture did was critical to help farmers meet those goals.”
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McKenzie adds that if the government is expecting organizations and farmers to pick up the slack with research and development, it could be facing an uphill battle.

“That’s many years of experience and expertise we will lose. That’s an issue. That’s a huge loss,” said McKenzie.

“If new organizations take over doing this work, it’s going to take them several years to get up to speed.”

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Devin Dreeshen would not confirm in what areas the layoffs will take place, but says they were carefully considered to increase efficiency, and could save the province tens of millions of dollars.

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“There was a lot of growth in the department and we weren’t actually seeing any service standards increasing. So we identified those areas within the department that we could deliver the same service standard, but do it with less.”

Dreeshen adds that the government has committed to funding $37 million in agriculture research and will soon be announcing a new, farmer-led governance board that will make decisions about efficiencies and research priorities moving forward.

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The changes are expected to come into effect as early as next month, after a review of public feedback is complete and a new research governance board has been established.