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Ritz defends cuts to federal agriculture programs
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, April 13, 2012 6:12AM CST
Canada's agriculture minister is defending the government's decision to put a pasture program and a shelterbelt tree program on the chopping block to save money.
Gerry Ritz said Thursday that the programs were useful when they were created more than 100 years ago.
"Having said that, no one farms or produces the same as they did a century ago. 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," said Ritz.
"They're not delivering to the same extent that there were at one point."
There are 60 federal pastures in Saskatchewan, covering about 1.78 million acres or 720,340 hectares. Most of that pasture would revert back to the control of the province, which says no decision has been made on what would happen to the land.
However, Ritz said it could be an opportunity for producers to buy the land -- if the province decides to sell.
"That's a decision they'll make," said Ritz.
"I know they did sell a couple of pastures last year and they're looking to privatize the same as we are, thinking that there are efficiencies to be gained that way.
As for the shelter program, Ritz suggests it's out of date because new farming techniques help prevent soil erosion.
The Prairie Shelterbelt Program was started in 1901. According to Agriculture Canada's website, the main benefit of a shelterbelt on a field is wind reduction. The shelterbelt reduces soil erosion and soil moisture evaporation. It can also control blowing snow, protect livestock, and trap snow for dugouts on farms.
The program is administered out of the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head, east of Regina.
"Now there's no summerfallow to speak of. With continuous cropping, our land is covered by the stubble that's left in play," said Ritz.
"With the size of equipment now, I've seen far more of those shelter belts being torn out than replaced."
The Public Service Alliance of Canada says 30 people could lose their jobs in Indian Head and as many as 100 other casual workers who are brought in on a seasonal basis will be impacted too.
Union spokesman Milton Dyck argues the shelterbelt program should be saved.
"Yes, there have been, especially with the way we're doing modern farming, shelterbelts being lost. But there is still a need for tree growth and tree production within rural areas," said Dyck.