Rodney Sidloski, CEO of HELP International in Weyburn, is hoping to return life to the former Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration's shelterbelt centre. The non-profit organization is in high-level negotiations with Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) for a temporary caretaker's lease for the centre. HELP wants to ensure western Canadian farmers can still get the trees they need.
HELP's lease to the centre would be for six months or less for the purpose of maintaining and operating the shelterbelt centre as a tree farm. The current negotiations do not include requests from HELP for any government funding. Early in the divestiture process undertaken by the AAFC, an interim lease with the Agriculture Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS) was considered, but APAS said they would need government subsidies.
"As part of the disposal process the property was circulated to all levels of government. We are (now) at the stage of entertaining Treaty Land Entitlement bands as priority purchasers for the acquisition of the Agroforestry Development Centre.
Three First Nations have registered an interest in acquiring the property and HELP International has been instrumental in obtaining a conditional withdrawal of the other two bands priority interest in favour of the Carry the Kettle First Nation," said Michel Falardeau, director of real property and building operations for AAFC.
HELP is the front runner in the negotiations for the interim lease because of their work with the bands involved. The non-profit has close to $200,000 in agro-forestry services that will be programmed with First Nations bands in 2014 including shelterbelts, orchards, gardens, camp ground forestry, flood remediations and youth and adult eco-educational programming.
"There has been really good collaboration between the First Nations involved in allowing one band to step up to exercise the right to be the purchaser," said Sidloski.
He also said there has been a tremendous amount of political will across the prairies to save the centre and that teamwork between HELP, the government and some First Nations have ensured the tree farm will remain operational at least for now.
"We'd really like to see that political will turn into support," said Sidloski. He's not looking for donations though. He said purchasing trees is the best way for rural landowners to support the shelterbelt centre. Trees are available for order now for $1.50 each on orders of 300 or more and Saskatchewan farmers can get 10 per cent of their tree order free because they are sourced from SaskPower and managed by HELP.
"HELP is determined to ensure that trees are available for shipping no later than the beginning of May, weather permitting," said Sidloski. "Subsidized trees for landowners in all three prairie provinces is our core commitment."
The trees are not subsidized by taxpayers, but rather through international internship programs which HELP offers to students from Canada, Malaysia, Africa and Europe looking for agroforestry and management experience. To order trees from HELP International visit HELP-shelterbelts.com or contact Sidloski.
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