Saskatchewan’s ag ministry says call centres and websites aren’t cutting it for farmers needing provincial extension services.
Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud announced Thursday that his ministry will open new rural extension offices in three communities and assign more extension staff to rural communities.
“We have heard overwhelmingly from farmers and ranchers that a telephone line or website is insufficient to meet their current needs,” Bjornerud said in a release. “Today’s announcement puts our focus back on the farm gate, where it should be.”
The agriculture ministry will thus open new offices in Watrous and Kindersley, and reorganize its Moose Jaw call centre, the Agriculture Knowledge Centre (AKC), reopening its front doors to the public as a regional office.
Along with the ministry offices already operating at Swift Current, Tisdale, Outlook, North Battleford, Weyburn, Prince Albert and Yorkton, the ministry will then have 10 rural ag offices available to farmers.
Staff at each office will include a crop specialist, livestock specialist, forage specialist and farm business management specialist, the province said.
“These specialists will be available for on-farm visits and to meet with producers one-on-one,” the ministry said.
Phone calls to the AKC will remain an option for farmers wanting “immediate and specialized answers to technical enquiries.” The AKC will also deliver the services of the Farm Stress Line and the ministry general inquiry line.
Also, Bjornerud said, the ministry will assign a new regional services branch to work directly with farmers, ranchers and industry agrologists “to ensure producers have access to the latest technical knowledge and research results.”
Bjornerud said the ministry will also take steps to increase awareness of the services now available.
“Producers need to know where they can access information and ministry services,” he said. “Right now, some of our offices don’t even have signs on them. That will change.”
With these changes comes a reorganization of the ministry’s structure, with staff from the agri-business development branch, crop development branch, livestock development branch, inspection and regulatory management branch and market development and food branch transferred to three new branches with “simplified, clear mandates.”
The three new branches will be regional services, livestock and crops, the province said.
The changes will mean 15 ag ministry staff transferred to rural regional offices, but will also mean layoffs or termination notices for 20 permanent full- and part-time employees in the ministry.
“The reduction in positions is a result of efficiencies obtained through reorganization, making better use of existing resources and elimination of duplication of services,” the province said.
The cuts will reduce the ministry’s workforce by 16 full-time equivalents, the province added.