Opportunities abound in horticulture, says provincial specialist

The financial startup costs are typically lower and a host of information resources is available

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More people are interested in a career in agriculture these days and horticulture offers many opportunities, says a commercial horticulture specialist.

“Increased interest in local production as well as the desire to know where and how food is grown means more people are looking to get into agriculture and primary production,” said Dustin Morton.

Horticulture is an appealing choice because it can be practised on virtually any scale in nearly any location, with very few inputs, and has a broad range of production areas, including fruit, ornamentals, trees, and vegetables.

“One of the biggest hurdles facing new producers is a lack of resources,” said Morton. “While typically this refers to financial resources, information on trends in the industry, considerations for startups, and even credible information on how to grow a crop can be equally difficult to find.

“Further complicating matters is that horticultural production is largely done in warmer climates than our own, including Ontario, British Columbia, Washington and California. This can make extrapolating varieties and growing practices to Alberta’s climate and growing conditions challenging to say the least.”

Alberta Agriculture and Forestry tries to reduce this gap through many of the specialists and programs available.

“Specialists such as new-venture coaches can work with new producers to help them to develop a business plan, find their niche market, and look at opportunities for grant funding,” said Morton. “Commercial horticulture specialists deal with primary production in this broad and diverse industry and can discuss production considerations, pest concerns, and best management practices. Farmers’ market and food safety specialists can help with food safety concerns both on farm and in the market, ensuring a safe product.”

Alberta Agriculture also has numerous online resources on topics such as commercial vegetable production, direct-marketing regulations, and food safety for farmers’ markets.

The province is also currently running its Explore Horticulture workshop series. The final two workshops are Sept. 19 in Red Deer and Sept. 26 in Lethbridge.

While workshops, webinars, and much reading can all help in the beginning stage, nothing beats the experience and wisdom of a seasoned grower, said Morton.

“Networking with these growers at every opportunity will not only grow one’s knowledge of the industry but also of the players in it, improving the chance of success in your venture,” he said.

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