Updated, Jan. 7 — Manitoba’s agriculture and resource development department and crop insurance and ag lending agency will close their offices in 21 communities and consolidate others this spring, in a bid to reduce their “physical footprint.”
Agriculture Minister Blaine Pedersen on Wednesday announced what the province billed as “a new rural service delivery model to modernize services provided to clients whose needs and expectations have changed.”
The new model, set to take effect April 1, will consist of 10 agricultural service centres, to be staffed by both the provincial ag department and Manitoba Agricultural Services Corp. (MASC), the Crown crop insurance and ag lending agency.
Another nine rural offices will house department staff but will not be open to the public, the province said in a release.
Another five offices, meanwhile, will be devoted to “integrated resource management” and two other resource development offices will focus on minerals and petroleum respectively.
The new “multichannel” service delivery model will also involve development of an online chat program from which clients will be able to get “real-time assistance” via smartphone, tablet, computer or toll-free phone. An exact launch date for that program wasn’t given in Wednesday’s release.
Each office will also have a “client-accessible kiosk” for access to such online services, the province said.
The new consolidated ag service centres are to handle MASC’s insurance, lending, farmland school tax rebate and wildlife damage compensation services, along with licensing and permit applications, and also to provide information on ag department programs.
Those 10 combined offices will be at Arborg, Brandon, Dauphin, Headingley, Killarney, Morden, Neepawa, Portage la Prairie, Steinbach and Swan River.
Other workspace for department employees will remain — but will not be open to the public — at Beausejour, Carberry, Carman, Melita, Minnedosa, Neepawa, Portage la Prairie, Roblin and Virden.
Department and MASC offices set to close entirely under the new model include:
- the combined agriculture and MASC offices at Altona, Hamiota, Morris, Somerset, St. Pierre Jolys and Teulon;
- agriculture offices at Ashern, Gladstone, Lundar, Pilot Mound, Russell, Souris, Ste. Rose du Lac and Vita;
- MASC offices at Birtle, Deloraine, Fisher Branch, Glenboro, Grandview, Shoal Lake and Souris; and
- a petroleum branch office at Waskada.
The department’s “integrated resource management” offices will be at Brandon, Gimli, Lac du Bonnet, The Pas and Thompson; the minerals service office will be at Flin Flon and the petroleum services office at Virden.
Wednesday’s announcement didn’t specify whether or where MASC would continue to offer bilingual services. Its two listed bilingual offices, at St. Pierre Jolys and Somerset, are both slated to close.
“Meeting the needs of our clients with professional knowledge, current research and data, connections to appropriate links, and timely, unbiased information has always been a priority for our department,” Pedersen said in Wednesday’s release.
“The array of services that will be provided online, by telephone or in person at agricultural service centres throughout the province will offer producers a convenient and client-focused means to access the programs and services that are available to them.”
Keystone Agricultural Producers, the province’s general farm group, had warned earlier this year that the province should carefully consider any cuts it might make to MASC services, as adjusters will still need to be able to assess claims in a timely manner.
“I need to make important decisions about whether to rip up a crop and re-seed,” KAP president Bill Campbell told the Manitoba Co-operator in May. “Most of the work will be done out of the district offices. There aren’t many adjusters going from Portage to Swan River.”
In a separate statement Thursday, Campbell said that while KAP “welcome(s) the option to access forms, applications and information online, the opportunity to speak face-to-face with specialists is essential. This will be more challenging for many producers, particularly in western Manitoba.”
KAP, he said, has been “assured that these measures will not impact staffing levels” but he reiterated the organization’s members “are concerned about ongoing access to staff and have noted this issue for some time.”
Following provincial health guidelines, all ag department and MASC offices have been closed to walk-in or other unscheduled visits for months already due to the COVID-19 pandemic. — Glacier FarmMedia Network