Feds to shut down ag research station

MP McLeod: 'I'm terribly disappointed. I know this is tough on staff'

The Conservative government has notified employees in Kamloops it is closing the agricultural research station in operation here for nearly 80 years.

The closure comes after an effort three years ago to stave off shutting the facility in Brocklehurst, when it was transitioned away from cattle research to study of grasslands and environmental range practices.

"I'm terribly disappointed," said MP Cathy McLeod. "I know this is tough on staff."

About 14 workers will lose jobs. They were given notices Thursday and have 120 days to look for other opportunities within federal government.

The research station started operation in 1935. But its facilities at Pass Lake date to 1886, when a federal forest fire lookout station was built on the plateau. That infrastructure became part of the research branch.

Until 2011, the station studied cattle and feed. It was home to a number of federal scientists along with research and lab assistants.

It also had a partnership with Tranquille Stock Association, which provided cattle in return for grazing rights.

McLeod said the closure results from efforts at deficit reduction as well as recognition the federal government is now transferring funds directly to the provinces for agriculture.

The union that represents nine lab and other staff called the cuts "devastating." It was done along with axing poultry research in Agassiz and about 50 jobs in Regina.

Public Service Alliance of Canada received word of 235 positions made redundant with cuts in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The retooled Kamloops station was supposed to work on short-term research and partnerships with industry and academia on sustainability and management of grasslands.

Kevin Boon, general manager of B.C. Cattlemen's Association, said the closure will hurt the province's cattle industry at a time when it is trying to promote B.C. beef as a premium product.

"For us, the biggest disappointment is losing this one (research station) in Kamloops," Boon said.

"They spent the past two years switching to grasslands research. We were looking forward to that. There's a lot of research on animals and genetics and very little on our food supply."

The facility includes offices, deeded and leased lands, fencing, agricultural plots and cabins. An official said late Friday the Pass Lake facilities operated with local ranchers will not be closed.

"It's very valuable agricultural land," Boon said. "To us, the value is in research."

Lauchlan Fraser, Canada Research Chair in grasslands at TRU, said the new role for the station entailed getting research into the hands of producers.

"It has such a long history and excellent work came out of that staff . . . . . Their major role was to make sure information got into hands of folks working the land."

Projects included integrating cattle forage and forests together as well as determining timing and duration of grazing on grasslands.

While the station will no longer be operated by the federal government, McLeod said she is in the early stages of getting together interest groups to talk about the future. Those groups include B.C. Cattlemen, local ranchers, provincial officials and Thompson Rivers University.

Fraser said the facilities are in excellent condition. It also offers a mix of grassland elevation and types. But even if Ottawa were to transfer the facilities and lands at no cost, there are questions about its operational costs that must be answered.

"It makes practical sense but I don't know about finances."

© Copyright 2018 Kamloops Daily News