Farmer’s Advocacy Office - another month; future uncertain

The Peace River Regional District agreed to cover the Farmer Advocacy Office’s rent for one more month, but its future is still uncertain.

FAO representatives needed to give notice by March 1 if they intended to leave their space at the end of March — when their contract is up — so the PRRD directors at the February 28 meeting bucked up for April’s rent, a cost of $1,943.

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The previous agreement with the FAO contractor had ended July 31, 2018, so the PRRD resolved to extend it to March 31 of this year, bearing the full cost — $18,040 per month. (The PRRD and the province previously split the costs).

“The difficulty we are at is how they’re funded,” says Area E Director Dan Rose.

A report by MNP on the FAO recommended “renewing the contract for a transitory phase between the PRRD and the FAO contractor with clarification on roles, expectations and core functions,” noting a heavy reliance on the current contractor in the current set-up.

FAO reps, however, disputed some of the reports points, including suggestions there were problems between FAO staff and management committee, that they were going beyond their scope by offering legal advice, and that they provide subjective compensation figures.

“We find the tone of the report to be accusatory in nature, incorrect in several significant areas, and we are saddened to find this reflection of our services posted publicly in our community,” says Anne Clayton with the FAO.

One thing everyone did seem to agree on was the value of the FAO.

“I can’t foresee it closing, because it is such a valuable asset to landowners,” says Area D Director Leonard Hiebert. “I never heard anything negative from our constituents.”

Reps from provincial ministries Lori Vickers and Richard Bader were on hand Thursday, and they agreed on its importance.

“At the Ministry of Agriculture, we would like to see a continuation of the services of the FAO office, and we recommend following the MNP recommendations,” said Vickers, a regional agrologist with the Minister of Agriculture. “We want to see this as an opportunity to regroup moving forward.”

Bader, acting director with Oil and Gas Division of Ministry of Energy and Mines said there was a high level of satisfaction in area with the FAO.

“[We just need to] mitigate risk and maximize opportunity.”

Expanding the scope beyond just oil and gas was one of the points raised many times during the meeting.

But, again, funding is the question. The reps from the ministries indicated there aren’t any 2019 funds allocated to the project.

FAO delegates had a few concerns regarding funding models.

“We’d like to see funding independent of the Ministry of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources, the OGC, the SRV, and the oil and gas industry, just so that it is truly independent,” says Clayton.

“I am concerned if it is going to be an extension of our contract on a transitory basis, that there may be more work and more need than our staff can provide.”

The Regional District will circle back on the issue before the end of March, with directors not wanting the PRRD to take it on by themselves. A new contract, an extension of the previous one as the board agreed to last year, or closing down the office appear to be the options on the table.

But there didn’t seem to be much appetite for the latter.

“It is absolutely critical to our ag sector,” says Area B Director Karen Goodings.

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