Saturday November 22, 2014

PFRA pastures on the way out


The federal government under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper is an increasing mystery in terms of how it deals with agriculture.

Apparently Harper, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, and the rest of the Conservative clan are the wisest Members of Parliament we have managed to elect in 75-years.

At least it seems that way as a group of MPs elected by a minority of Canadians are focused on changing many of the long-held programs of farming.

This space has related the government’s handling of the Canadian Wheat Board often, so I won’t spend much time relating the Conservative’s arrogant dealings in terms of that institution.

In its recent budget the government also announced it is eliminating the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s enforcement of non-health and non-safety food labeling claims.

The CFIA has a strong reputation in ensuring food safety in this country, and consumers should not be happy with that decision. When you think about how critical food safety is nothing that even holds a chance of weakening the food security system should be seen as a wise move.

The same budget also announced the federal government through the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration will be getting out of the community pasture business.

The PFRA operates 85 community pastures with a history dating back to the 1930s when the federal department took on the role of reclaiming lands across the Prairies impacted by the severe drought of that decade.

Since then the PFRA has remained an important agency in terms of water management, grants flowing through for dugouts and wells, and in dealing with droughts in various ways, including offering thousands of trees through the years for shelterbelts.

When it comes to research into important erosion control farm techniques, such as zero-till, the PFRA has been there.

The community pastures have offered farmers a source of summer pasture for their cattle, coming with experienced pasture managers looking after the cattle.

Most pastures even offer access to top quality bulls for breeding, helping producers to access genetics without the added work associated with wintering bulls.

It is a system which has worked pretty well for some 80-years, but under the Conservative government’s current mandate it’s an area that gets cut.

The federal government is suggesting they will divest themselves of the pasture management over the next few years, with the plan to hopefully have the provinces, or producer groups take over.

That might sound reasonable, but there is something to be said for scale. The ability to buy bulls for 85 pastures and move them around as they need.

Having pasture managers paid for by a federal government agency is likely to offer better dollars than from 85-local cooperatives.

On the surface rancher control might seem a natural progression, but in this case producers haven’t exactly been vocal for the need for change, which at least was the case with the Wheat Board where a lot of producers were not happy.

In the case of the PFRA community pastures weren’t even a major drain on federal coffers at a time when balancing the books is just a dream.

Which begs the question why the Conservatives are doing this?

It also reminds of the old adage ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’, but of course Harper and crew are just that much smarter than every government since the 1930s, or at least they seem to believe they are.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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