Study says irrigation delivers big dollars to Alberta economy

Study also finds irrigated crop and livestock production have created 
38,000 direct jobs and another 17,000 ones in food processing

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Every cubic metre of water delivered for irrigation creates $3 to the province’s GDP and $2 in labour income.

This is one of the key conclusions in a study funded by the Canada-Alberta Growing Forward 2 program and commissioned by the Alberta Irrigation Projects Association (AIPA).

The study also shows that for every dollar of irrigation-related crop, livestock and food-processing sales, total GDP increased by $2.54 and labour income increased by $1.64. Overall irrigation contributes $3.6 billion each year to the province’s GDP averaging — an average of $2,550 per acre of land irrigated.

“We have known that irrigation is the lifeblood of many communities in southern Alberta but we wanted to be able to quantify our overall economic impact in Alberta,” said AIPA chair Erwin Braun.

Other key conclusions in the study undertaken by Paterson Earth and Water Consulting from Lethbridge include:

  • The irrigation agri-food sector contributes about 20 per cent of the total provincial agri-food sector GDP on 4.7 per cent of the province’s cultivated land base.
  • Almost 90 per cent of the GDP generated by irrigation accrues to the region and the province and 10 per cent to irrigation producers.
  • Using labour income as the criteria, 89 per cent of the irrigation-related benefits accrue to the region and province, and 11 per cent to irrigation producers.
  • Because of the growth of irrigation in southern Alberta, irrigated crop and livestock production has resulted in 38,000 jobs and food processing has created another 17,000 full-time equivalent positions.
  • Benefits from irrigation water and infrastructure used for non-irrigation purposes, such as recreation, hydropower generation, and drought mitigation, generated an additional $85 million to the provincial GDP and $71 million in labour income.

“We also wanted to know the industry’s economic challenges for the future,” Braun said. “And what the study shows is that there is a clear need for governments to work with industry to plan for potential impacts of climate change on agriculture, both positive and negative.”

The study calls for long-term water and drought management strategies, including increasing Alberta’s water storage capacity and better communication with international markets about the environmental and economic sustainability of Alberta’s irrigation agri-food production and new food production opportunities to meet growing worldwide demand.

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