Agriculture can lead Alberta out of pandemic woes, say leaders

Blue ribbon panel offers six-point action plan to make sector a driver of provincial growth

Agriculture could be a driver of growth in Alberta and offers “mountains of opportunities for growth, investment and jobs,” says a report from a high-profile panel of ag sector players.

The panel was one part of a wider group of experts and business leaders asked by Premier Jason Kenney to make recommendations on how to recover from the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. It included a number of prominent names, including UFA president and CEO Scott Bolton, AdFarm founder Kim McConnell, Alberta Wheat general manager Tom Steve and well-known figures such as John Simpson and Kee Jim.

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“One of the burning questions about the recovery from COVID-19 is, ‘Which sectors of the Alberta economy will lead the way?’ Steve wrote in the most recent edition of Alberta Wheat and Alberta Barley’s newsletter.

“Oil and gas? Unlikely. The airline industry in the home province of WestJet? Doubtful. Tourism? Not so much.”

But agriculture “can help Alberta emerge from the economic doldrums,” Steve wrote.

“In my opinion, we have a tremendous opportunity in front of us to re-establish agriculture and agri-food as a leading driver of economic growth. No other province in Canada has the combination of productivity and geographical access to markets that Alberta has to capitalize on this.”

The panel identified six ‘planks’ that offer the most potential for growth — all of them aligned “with two significant global drivers: the heightened importance of a trusted and reliable source for food security; and the consumer’s demand for a sustainable economy.”

The six recommendations are:

  • Make Alberta the home of the world’s carbon offset market. The group said companies and governments around the world “have ambitious sustainability goals, and if Alberta moves quickly and defines its position, there is substantial potential in technology development, generating measurement and traceability protocols, and the creation of a global carbon credit and offset market.” It says the initiative would both attract investment to the province and provide revenue for farmers for carbon sequestration.
  • Encourage investment (both public and private) in “an energy and transportation corridor from Alberta to the coast and a container port in Prince Rupert” to increase exports of both commodities and value-added products.” Such an initiative would allow the province to capture a share of the growing global demand for high-quality food, which the panel says is expected to grow by 50 per cent over the next 30 years.
  • Increase valued-added food production by providing “wellhead-priced natural gas and access to water for new agri-food investments like greenhouses, processing plants, making your own electricity, and establishing new industries and products from production and food waste.”
  • Create “a competitive pool of risk capital” to stimulate and leverage investment in agri-food opportunities. It recommends the government put in $100 million into the fund, which “would only match Alberta-based, private sector equity.”
  • Give the province’s producers better risk management tools by eliminating the reference margin limits in AgriStability and “bring some new insurance and risk mitigation partners and programs to Alberta farmers and ranchers.”
  • “Champion” the agriculture and agri-food sectors to raise awareness — both at home and abroad — of their strengths and the opportunities they offer.

Steve’s column and a link to the report is available at albertawheat.com in The Grain Exchange newsletter.

About the author

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Glenn Cheater

Glenn Cheater is a veteran journalist who has covered agriculture for more than two decades. His mission is to showcase the ideas, passions, and stories of Alberta farmers and ranchers.

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