HELP International has been in the former Agroforestry Development Centre (ADC) for nearly three weeks now and CEO Rodney Sidloski is pleased with the organization's progress. Their biggest steps forward include implementing a zero-waste system which has resulted in no trees being killed.
Immediately upon taking up the lease, HELP began implementing some of their agroforestry innovations at the centre to make it more efficient.
"There's not a shred of waste," said Sidloski. Under the former system, young trees from stooling beds that were deemed too big or too small to be replanted were thrown away. HELP developed floating nurseries and underground planting methods which enable those trees to grow and be healthy.
"As a result, there's double the amount of trees coming from every stooling bed," said Sidloski.
"It's been really something - a real razzle-dazzle," said Sidloski, who was happy to be back at work growing trees. The condition he found the centre in after two years of decommissioning was less than ideal though.
"We were disappointed with the profound amount of decommissioning that had been going," said Sidloski.
On Apr. 16, after the Assistant Deputy Minister of the science and technology branch of Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Dr. Siddika Mithani, and Michel Falardeau, from AAFC, visited to sort out the matters pertaining to the lease and the transfer of equipment included in the lease, Sidloski said the task of salvaging the stooling beds, taking orders for sale and processing and packaging them really took off. Sidloski said Mithani told him part of the reason for the extent of the decommissioning was because the people on the ground didn't know anybody was interested in the centre. The Weyburn Review and other media outlets have been covering multiple third party's interest in the centre for over a year now.
"Our government was clear that this change would provide a great opportunity for the private sector to step in and deliver the service to Western Canada," said Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada. "Agriculture Canada is currently working with local First Nations and HELP International to divest this asset."
Sidloski said much of the equipment had been completely dismantled, not just packed away, and the trees had been neglected. The non-profit continued to fight some big battles even after the signing date to ensure the equipment and facilities included in their lease were handed over from bureaucratic parties on the ground.
"There were lots of interested parties who didn't want the centre to continue as a tree farm," said Sidloski. So far, HELP has been undertaking emergency measures to ensure there are not only enough trees this spring, but also next year. They have been working in foot-deep mud to get the centre back up to par. So far, HELP has taken 200,000 cuttings for poplars and are waiting for the ground frost to thaw before lifting more; a total of 1.5 million are needed.
The cuttings will grow new trees for next year's harvest.
"There's many, many operations in progress to make the tree farm work," said Sidloski, who is determined to have poplars available for farmers. The HELP farm in Weyburn is one of the only places in western Canada with some hybrid poplar and willow varieties, which are most commonly used in shelter belts. He has a four-person team working the field to pull them and a three-person team processing the pulled trees for sale. The work teams include HELP's four newest interns, from Malaysia.
"The international interns are doing absolutely fantastic," he said.
Many of the trees they have already sold have also come from the organization's Weyburn-based farm. As of Apr. 25, HELP has received slightly more than 1,000 inquiries and many of them were turning into orders. The average order is for 300 trees, in part because of the $1.50 per tree price for orders of 300 or more. Orders of less than 300 trees cost $2.50 per tree.
In regard to an earlier statement which reported Saskatchewan rural landowners could receive 10 per cent of their trees for free, a clarification was provided. Those donor trees will be used for community programming administered through HELP.
Sidloski said he is also pursuing agreements with provincial authorities like the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities and their equivalents in Alberta and Manitoba to help reach landowners and let them know trees are available and to arrange centralized delivery locations. Landowners can place their orders via the website, help-shelterbelts.weebly.com, or by contacting Sidloski directly.
Sidloski also said fall plantings will be available with some incentives attached. The advantages of planting in fall are that snow cover can create a good barrier to hold in moisture for the trees. HELP crews can assist the landowners properly plant trees so they survive winter.
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