The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) was a branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with a focus on Western Canada. It was headquartered in Regina, Saskatchewan. The PFRA also had 22 district offices throughout the Prairie provinces. The agency began in response to the drought crisis of the 1930s in the Prairies. However, for nearly eight decades, it continued to help farmers conserve soil, prevent erosion, develop water resources and manage pasture land.
The federal government founded the PFRA in 1935 during a long, severe drought. The crisis saw an estimated 247,000 people leave the Prairies between 1931 and 1941. Until 1934, the federal government encouraged farmers to leave. A 1936 census reported a total of 13,900 abandoned farms encompassing almost 3 million acres.
By 1935, the government was discouraging farmers from leaving. It set up the PFRA to deal with the problems of soil erosion, soil conservation and lack of water resources. The agency launched several emergency programs to deal with the drought. One program helped build on-farm dugouts (large holes used as reservoirs) to keep water for livestock. Another used strip farming (different crops grown in alternating strips) to prevent the widespread drifting of soil. Still others involved planting seeds on abandoned land for community pastures. The PFRA ran large-scale tree-planting projects to protect the soil from wind erosion (see Agroforestry).
The government moved the PFRA’s soil-conservation role to another agency in 1946. However, work in the area of water development continued. To address the lack of water resources, the PFRA was for many years heavily involved in large-scale water development and conservation programs. Examples of its water programs include irrigation projects on the St. Mary, Bow and South Saskatchewan Rivers. Most Prairie communities benefitted from its work.
By the turn of the 21st century, the PFRA remained involved in large projects. But it had also broadened its mandate to meet the changing needs of the Prairies. It managed 9,300 km2 of community pastures, most located in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This work helped sustain lands where cattle grazed. The PFRA also gave millions of free seedlings to farmers for the purpose of planting shelterbelts, rows of trees that protect fields from wind erosion.
Did you know?
The community pastures that the PFRA managed totalled an area nearly twice the size of Prince Edward Island.
By promoting soil conservation and the development of water resources, the PFRA tried to maintain a viable agriculture industry and a sound rural economy. It offered technical and financial help in a wide range of areas. In addition to soil and water conservation, water supply development and irrigation, it contributed to economic planning, rural development and environmental analysis.
In 2009, the PFRA was dissolved as a branch of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. The federal government merged its programs with the ministry’s Agri-Environment Services Branch. That same year, the government began to give up its role managing irrigation projects and started transferring these projects to communities. In 2013, it cut the community pasture and shelterbelt programs. Responsibility for the pasture lands went to the provinces, which in turn offered them for rent or sale to farmers.