The Agassiz Research Station has been operating locally for 124 years

Cuts loom for Agassiz research centre

Agassiz councillor Lorne Fisher fears eventual station closure

Agassiz’s Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre is undergoing a major cut to its roster of scientists.

According to an email from an internal source at the centre, notice was given last week that 16 positions will be cut from the 124-year-old research station, and that as few as five scientists will remain working at the site. Currently, there are 11 scientists and dozens more staff members working on everything from insect rearing to poultry research.

Located on Lougheed Hwy. in Agassiz, the facility consists of 310 hectares, research greenhouses, an arboretum, and the longest-running weather station in the province, dating back to 1889. It is also the only dairy research centre in Western Canada (co-located onsite with the UBC Dairy Education and Research Centre), and is one of two dairy research establishments in the entire country.

A call made to the Research Station director was not returned directly, however Agriculture Canada public relations responded. Ag Canada would not confirm the number of jobs cuts, or why, but replied in an email saying: “AAFC managers and human resources specialists are meeting with employees impacted to provide them the information, tools and support they need. The amount of time this process can take varies for each employee according to the situation.”

AAFC calls this a “work force adjustment situation” and indeterminate employees are covered by provisions of an agreement, found on the Treasury Board Secretariat website. Reasons listed on the website under “work force adjustments” are a lack of work, discontinuation of a function, relocation in which the employee does not wish to relocate and alternate delivery initiatives.

Still, the reason for the cutbacks was not made clear in the Agriculture Canada’s response. The Observer has also requested an interview with Gerry Ritz, Canada’s agricultural minister.

Kent Coun. Lorne Fisher feels these cuts could be the death knell for the station.

“There have been cuts going on,” he said. “But this one is more abrupt and of a much larger magnitude … we’re down to where they think they can get rid of us without protest.”

Fisher spent 35 years as a research scientist in Agassiz, and has kept his ties with colleagues and friends through his retirement. He knows firsthand how important the work done in the station is to the Canadian public, conducting publicly funded research and contributing to food safety and security. But he also knows the impact that hundreds of employees have had on the community of Agassiz. Like Fisher, many of the scientists have stepped up as community leaders in their free time and in retirement.

“The research station has contributed a lot here over the years,” he said. “All the major players in this community, in the last hundred years, came from the research centre.”

The station has helped Agassiz keep its farming industry strong, and is a major player in the widely popular Agassiz Fall Fair. For a few years, the fair was even held at the station — then called the Dominion Experimental Farm.

It’s a key part of this community, and Fisher isn’t about to watch it fizzle out.

“I feel the long-term plan is to wipe out the research branch,” Fisher said. “The next step is that somebody like myself will have to do something about it.”

While it could be risky for current scientists to rally against the cuts, Fisher said he has no reason not to speak out. He also feels qualified for the job.

“I’ve done it before,” he said.

In 1995, the research station was slated for closure and Fisher and a few others (including then-mayor Wes Johnson and Ron Dinn) banded together to fight for its survival. That resulted in UBC purchasing the dairy centre. Today, the research station scientists and staff are a major boost to the dairy program.

It’s unclear yet what effect the changes at the station will have on the UBC program.

Hopefully it won’t come to that, Fisher said, as the scientists haven’t been told to leave quite yet.

“In order to turn this around, we’re going to have a pretty serious fight. It will mean going up against (Stephen) Harper and his policies. I think he’s wrong but, he is the prime minister.”

The Canadian Press reported last week that the National Research Council has been told by the federal government “to focus on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science that may not have obvious business applications.”

But research needs to be carried out independently from business, Fisher said.

“(Harper) does not feel government should provide research services for the general population,” Fisher said. “He feels industry should do it all. This really becomes an issue for food science and food safety. I’m a bit biased because I spent 35 years in the science side of things. But industry will just do what has short-term profit.”

Fisher’s first step in trying to swing the government back in favour of Agassiz’s research station will be contacting MP Mark Strahl. The Observer also contacted Strahl. While an assistant said he is aware of the issues at the station, he could not provide comment before press time (Wednesday).

Another step to drumming up support is through the B.C. government, which has not proven fruitful in recent years, Fisher said.

He added Agassiz and the farming industry needs to promote itself.

“We don’t promote ourselves well enough,” he said. “We desperately need to re-establish high-profile programs, and the only way to do it is with significant input from the provincial government and the universities.”

He said premiers of western provinces are also going to have to stand up and defend their programs.

There are 19 federally funded research stations across the country, including the next closest dairy program in Lennoxville, Que.

Fisher has heard of other western stations being hit by staff reductions in past weeks, including Summerland, Kamloops and Lethbridge, where the cattle program operates. The research centre holds open houses each summer to showcase their work to the public.


Related Stories:

Science jobs about at Pacific Agriculture Research Centre – Nov. 19/2012

Agassiz research scientist awarded – Feb 23/2013


Just Posted

Lagoon improvements, but no safety audit recommendations, coming to Harrison

The lagoon will see electrical upgrades, a new flag pole and fencing, but no life jackets or signs

UFV introduces first mindfulness graduate program in Canada

Most of the University of the Fraser Valley program is offered online

All child porn charges against Chilliwack realtor dismissed

Meissner’s computers contained ‘miniscule’ amount of content normally found on offenders’ devices

Mounties hunt for missing Langley man

The public has been asked to help locate David Grainger, last seen on March 19

B.C. Wildfire crews respond to Sts’ailes, Morris Valley fires

A fire at the First Nation and a grass fire in Mission sent smoke across the valley Wednesday

Harrison Hot Springs students bring ‘Twelfth Night’ to life

The adaption of Shakespeare’s classic comedy include songs and phrases from Canada’s east coast

Vancouver Giant named to Western Conference first-tier all-star team

Young hockey defenceman Bowen Byram is once again lauded for his outstanding efforts on the ice

Permit rejected to bring two cheetahs to B.C.

Earl Pfeifer owns two cheetahs, one of which escaped in December 2015

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni prompts evacuation updates

UBC study says some people didn’t recognize the emergency signal

Care providers call for B.C. seniors’ watchdog to step down

The association also asks the province to conduct an audit and review of the mandate of her office

Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from B.C. roaster recalled due to botulism scare

“If you purchased N7 Nitro Cold Brew Coffee from Cherry Hill … do not drink it.”

B.C. man gets award for thwarting theft, sexual assault – all in 10 minutes

Karl Dey helped the VPD take down a violent sex offender

Punching Parkinson’s in the Fraser Valley

Rock Steady Boxing program, designed to help battle symptoms of Parkinson’s, coming to Abbotsford in April

Baby left alone in vehicle in B.C. Walmart parking lot

Williams Lake RCMP issue warning after attending complaint at Walmart Wednesday

Most Read