04/18/2012 06:06 EDT | Updated 06/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Saskatchewan agriculture minister sees need for axed shelterbelt tree program

REGINA - Saskatchewan's agriculture minister says there is still a need for the shelterbelt tree program.

Bob Bjornerud said Wednesday that he'll tell federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz how important the service is when Canada's agriculture ministers meet Friday in Ottawa.

"It's just a way of life out there," said Bjornerud.

"I mean, you don't have a house out on the open prairie. Very seldom do you see that where there isn't a nice shelterbelt around it or if there isn't, they're working on it if it's a new yard site. It's important out there that you have those trees."

The Prairie Shelterbelt Program was started in 1901.

According to Agriculture Canada's website, the main benefit of a shelterbelt on a field is wind reduction. The shelterbelt reduces soil erosion and soil moisture evaporation. It can also control blowing snow, protect livestock, and trap snow for dugouts on farms.

The program, which provides free trees to farmers, is administered out of the Agroforestry Development Centre in Indian Head, east of Regina.

It is being axed as the federal government tries to save money.

Ritz said last week that farming techniques have changed over the last century and the shelterbelt is not as necessary now to reduce soil erosion. He said there could be opportunity for the private sector to step in.

He said in an email Wednesday that the federal government is "stepping out of the business of providing free trees to western Canada." However, he said Agriculture Canada will continue to develop agroforestry science, technology and genetic materials at the site in Indian Head.

Bjornerud said the province won't take over the program. He acknowledged private sector involvement is one option.

"But we would really like to see that the transfer to the private sector, if that's what Minister Ritz is doing, is done well and you know that service is provided," said Bjornerud.