Made-in-Sask. solution for shelterbelt centre

Dear Editor

The PFRA Shelterbelt Centre at Indian Head will be disposed of by the Government of Canada during 2015. Having grown to an annual capacity to supply seven million soil conservation and habitat tree seedlings to farmers, it has provided nearly 600 million trees in 114 years.

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As a division of the PFRA, the centre has supplied 30 species of soil conservation and wildlife habitat trees free of charge to farmers. It has now been forced to transition to a private business and is tasked with convincing farmers who used to plant 5,000 trees as a field shelterbelt why they ought to pay $7,500 in cash and wait 10 years for any cash return to their farm.

If the Shelterbelt Centre is not to simply become like the 325,000-foot Weyburn Psychiatric Centre buildings, which were bulldozed and are now remembered only by pictures and stories in Saskatchewan history books, this phenomenal agro-forestry asset must be reborn as the key manager and focal driver of some new profitable enterprise.

One party relies on foreign university interns who work for free, rented the shelterbelt centre lands during 2014. They bought cuttings from Alberta and subdivided and rooted them to add to what they got from subdividing trees from Indian Head so as to have $1 million of inventory at $1.50 per tree in 2015.

Agriculture Canada Research Station researchers continue to publish and present research based on their work at the Shelterbelt Centre and have lobbied other government departments such as supply and services to buy out the assets and continue operating a research program at the shelterbelt centre.

The situation raises an important question for the public and for policy makers as to why the taxpayers have invested millions in the Saskatchewan biotech industry if it can't develop a made-in-Saskatchewan solution for the Indian Head centre. We have world-class researchers at the University of Saskatchewan, but apparently the shelterbelt centre has been ignored, and what's worse, seen as a problem and not an opportunity.

However, there are potential solutions, as a local First Nation has first right of refusal to any sale by the government and has shown interest in acquiring the centre. There are other strategic players in Saskatchewan who would work with one or several First Nations to bring immediate added value by training people to create employment in all aspects of a diverse enterprise.

This would employ aboriginals and others to process bio-products from existing Saskatchewan shelterbelts into products at the shelterbelt centre and contract to continue to supply trees and buy back bio-products over a long term.

The burgeoning health and wellness longevity promoting marketplace presents an opportunity for a wide range of bio-products to emerge from an integrated enterprise with hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue distributed through several supply chains. So what others see as a time of gloom and doom and struggle, I see as a time of incredible opportunity.

It is my wish that during 2015 some combination of these parties each with something to gain move forward and turn the former PFRA Indian Head Shelterbelt Centre into a successful commercial venture and indeed gather up their courage and conviction in a timely fashion to create a made-in-Saskatchewan agro-forestry success story. 

Morris Johnson


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