Giving Alberta its own farm paper wasn’t a slam dunk — but it worked

A look back at the decision to start a new paper for the province’s farmers and ranchers

Giving Alberta its own farm paper wasn’t a slam dunk — but it worked
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How come there’s never been a provincial farm paper in Alberta?”

For many years, that question often came up when a group of farm writers got together over a drink. Though it has many readers across the Prairies, the Western Producer had its roots in Saskatchewan and had proven successful. The Manitoba Co-operator, with a strong local focus, was also stable and profitable, despite the smaller farm population in that province.

So for Alberta, a province with more farmers and some distinct types of farming (and distinct farmer thinking), most of us agreed (over a drink) that its own farm paper would be a great idea.

But there are times when you’re challenged to put your cocktail party ideas into practice.

At Farm Business Communications (now Glacier FarmMedia), that challenge came in early 2007 when I joined as part of a new management group, and we did a review of all the publications.

The groundwork had already been laid in the late 1990s with a monthly publication called Alberta Crops and Beef, which was later renamed The Alberta Express. But it so far had limited editorial and sales resources, which limited its attraction to advertisers and therefore the bottom line.

We decided we had two choices — kill the publication, or put more resources into it and make it better.

We gambled and took the latter choice. We hired more editorial staff, increased the freelance budget, changed the frequency to every two weeks and changed the name to Alberta Farmer Express so that it was clear about the audience we were serving.

The increased frequency allowed us to use timely national and international stories from other staff at other publications and news services, meaning the Alberta staff could concentrate on the local and provincial stories that give the paper its unique flavour.

Eleven years later, Alberta Farmer is still arriving in 44,500 mailboxes every second week, so it seems the gamble paid off. I’m semi-retired and no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, but I still contribute occasionally and go through the paper to keep track of what’s going on.

It’s interesting to go back through earlier issues to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. The front page of the first edition on Oct. 15, 2007 had a story on BSE and the prospect of the U.S. border opening to over-30-month cattle. It’s nice to see that issue behind us. The wheat board was still a hot issue and while some disagree on how it turned out, it’s nice that the divisive battle over it is also behind us.

Some things will never change — the other front-page story on that issue was on how Alberta yields had been reduced by a dry summer that year. Sounds familiar, and no doubt there will be more stories like that in future years (hopefully not too many). But in a story in the next issue, some farmers may have learned for the first time about a disease called clubroot. Let’s hope we can look forward to a time when we don’t have to do any more stories on that problem.

Looking through recent issues it’s nice to see another thing that hasn’t changed, which is that the regular columnists who joined early in the paper’s life are still contributing — Carol Shwetz, Brenda Schoepp, Roy Lewis and Daniel Bezte.

Covering agriculture in Alberta is a challenge — it’s a big province with a lot of farms producing a wide variety of crops and livestock, and no two farms are the same. But farmers love to learn about what other farmers are doing and thinking, and helping them do that is one of the main jobs of a farm publication. Congratulations to Alexis Kienlen, Jennifer Blair, Glenn Cheater, and all the columnists, contributors and production staff for doing that job so well.

And let’s not forget the advertisers — another big job for farm publications is to let farmers know about the products and services they need to run their operations. Thanks to the advertisers for their support in helping this paper arrive in your mailbox every two weeks.

John Morriss is the former editorial director of Glacier FarmMedia.

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