05/16/2013 12:49 EDT | Updated 07/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Agriculture Canada closing offices in 4 Saskatchewan communities

The federal government is closing Agriculture Canada offices in Melville, Watrous , North Battleford and Weyburn.

According to the department, research centres in Saskatoon and Swift Current will be maintained.

As well, research on cattle, previously done in Lethbridge, Alberta, will be consolidated with the existing research office in Swift Current.

The cuts were made to reduce overhead expenses in Saskatchewan and focus on scientific research.

The office in North Battleford is in the riding of federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who recently posted a news release on his website talking about the importance of the industry in Saskatchewan.

"Saskatchewan is home to nearly half of Canada's arable farm land, 30 per cent of Canada's agriculture biotech industry, and the second largest beef cattle herd in the country," a press release in April noted. "In 2012 Saskatchewan remained Canada's top agri-food exporting province, with more than $11 billion worth of agri-food exports, which accounts for more than one-third of all provincial exports."

According to one public sector union, a total of nearly 700 Agriculture Canada employees across the country have been told they may be laid off due to cuts.

Marianne Hladun, vice president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, said there have been a number of cuts to Agriculture Canada, especially in the Prairies.