On January 14 a delegation consisting of Director Marcia Hewit Fisher and Executive Director Jake Kotowich from the Crop Health and Assurance Branch attended the regular ASBPC meeting to talk about the Key Contact program. The Key Contact program was started in 2009 when there was over 50 Agrologists and specialists within the Ministry to draw on for the program. Over the years the number of Key Contacts requested by ASBs has fluctuated, at one point dropping down to just 7 contacts. The program was started as a way to facilitate better communication between ASBs and the ministry of Agriculture and Forestry around programs and policies in the ministry.
The new Key Contact program under development by the ministry delegation will likely involve virtual tools and fewer staff spread over more ASBs. However there was a commitment that staff would be dedicated to the model and no longer be “working off the corner of their desk”, something that has never happened before. The Committee suggested that the delegation come back with an outline of some options and possibilities that can be shared with the ASBs for feedback and input. They agreed to reconnect with the ASBPC in about a month with options and ideas.
The Committee also was able to bring up a discussion about the changes at the Ag-Info Centre and how this is affecting the roles of the Ag Fieldmen. There was discussion about how Ag Fieldmen are probably in the best position to provided extension support for farmers. The Committee pointed out that ASBs are in the business of regulation, and that agriculture production extension has been traditionally the roll of the province. The feedback from the ASBs has been that very few if any are positioned to become front line production extension support for farmers. This concern was recognized, but the reality that the provincial government no longer has the capacity to provide that one-on-one extension support for farmers remains. This led to discussions around developing a new model of engagement, and the delegation committed to coming back with options for further discussion.
- In March 2020 the specialists at the Ag – Info Center and the many more extension specialists and Agrologists were let go in a second round of layoffs.
- ADM John Conrad has stated that 2021 will be a year of stabilizing and developing new models as the reduced staff adjusts to the changes in the department
- The Ag-Info Centre has now become a referral service “providing information on Ministry programs and services and connect producers to the many non-government resources available to them.”
- Ag Info Centre now refers callers to their local AgFieldman and applied research or forage association for production support.
- Nov 23, 2020 the Committee met with the Minister Devin Dreeshen who invited feedback on the effects of front line service changes in the ministry. ASBs were asked to send feedback which the Committee passed on to the Minister.
- In addition to the loss of specialists for unbiased agriculture production extension support, the Key Contact program, administrative support for the ASB program and continued delays in the Resource Management Stream funding are ongoing issues for the ASBs.