The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA), a branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC), was established by the federal government in 1935 to help mitigate the impacts of a prolonged and disastrous drought which forced thousands of people to leave the prairies between 1931 and 1941. PFRA's original mandate was to deal with the problems of soil erosion and lack of water resources required for agricultural development in the drought-affected areas of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Emergency programs included on-farm dugouts for the conservation of water, strip farming to prevent extensive soil drifting, seeding of abandoned land to curb erosion and create community pastures, and extensive tree-planting projects to protect the soil from wind erosion. As a result of another drought in 1961, the federal government expanded PFRA's work area to include all agricultural areas of the prairie provinces - more than 80% of Canada's agricultural land base.
Today, AAFC-PFRA work with prairie people to help develop a viable agriculture industry and a sound rural economy in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and the Peace River region of British Columbia through the promotion of soil conservation activities and the development of local water resources. As part of AAFC's shift towards the development and delivery of various national programs, PFRA staff are now playing significant roles in environment-based AAFC initiatives across the country. These programs are targeted towards the development of sustainable national standards for the agriculture industry, and the promotion of environmental stewardship within the sector.
To address the inherent lack of water resources on the prairies, PFRA was for many years heavily involved in large-scale water development and conservation programs. One of those major enterprises was the South Saskatchewan River Project (SSRP). PFRA designed and supervised construction of the SSRP, a monumental undertaking that entailed the development of two dams (Gardiner and Qu'Appelle) and a massive reservoir in south-central Saskatchewan. The project, which began in 1959 and took eight years of round-the-clock work to complete, is epitomized today by 225-km long Lake Diefenbaker, which supplies drinking water to approximately 50% of Saskatchewan's population.
PFRA operates thirty dams in southwestern and south-central Saskatchewan, along with twelve major diversion works. Twenty-three of these dams make up PFRA's Southwest Saskatchewan Water Supply System. Developed in the mid-1940s, the system is used to deliver water to 600 irrigators, 17,400 ha of land, and five communities - Swift Current, Gravelbourg, Lafleche, Eastend and Herbert.
With a growing emphasis on the merits of irrigation and the increasing likelihood of a dam and reservoir on the nearby South Saskatchewan River (what would later become the SSRP), PFRA established an irrigation farm at Outlook in 1949. What is now the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre (CSIDC) was established to introduce irrigation technology, new cropping practices, and alternative crops to south-central Saskatchewan. CSIDC is an important part of an irrigation-based crop development and diversification program on the prairies that includes applied research and demonstration facilities at Carberry, Manitoba, and Lethbridge, Alberta. In 1963, PFRA gained a valuable tool for fighting soil erosion and improving living conditions for farm residents when all federal government shelterbelt activities were centralized at Indian Head, Saskatchewan, and made the responsibility of PFRA.
Now known as the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada PFRA Shelterbelt Centre, the Indian Head facility celebrated 100 years of operation as a federal tree nursery in 2001. Today, the Shelterbelt Centre distributes five to seven million seedlings annually to some 10,000 applicants for field, farmyard, wildlife habitat and agroforestry plantings. Since 1901, the Centre has distributed more than 650 million seedlings to eligible prairie clients.
PFRA operates eighty community pastures across the Prairies, with sixty-two pastures in Saskatchewan covering 710,000 ha. Not only do these federal government pastures make up one of the largest ranching operations in North America, but by keeping these lands under permanent cover, a great deal of the prairies' diverse plant, insect, bird, reptile and mammal life is maintained. In Saskatchewan, forty-nine of the pastures - some of the last uncultivated land on the prairies - provide a home for “species at risk” as defined by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Over the past two decades, PFRA-led studies and demonstrations have promoted a better understanding and adoption of measures to address soil erosion, marginal land use, riparian zone management, water quality, and adaptation to climatic risk and change.
Through federal-provincial partnership agreements, PFRA delivers programs and services that help rural clients with activities that contribute to rural renewal, adaptation, and sustainable development. These programs are designed to integrate the economic, social and environmental aspects of agriculture and rural communities. PFRA offers technical and financial assistance in a wide range of areas including: soil and water conservation; water supply development and wastewater treatment; irrigation; rangeland management; community pastures; shelterbelts; engineering, surveying and drafting; project management; economic planning and rural development; integrated resource management; environmental analysis and sustainable agriculture; and wildlife and waterfowl habitat.
With its headquarters in Regina, PFRA has an extensive network of twenty-seven offices throughout the prairie provinces. Its twenty-two district offices (ten in Saskatchewan) are focal points for the delivery of federal agricultural services in the prairie region.