Minister Has Nothing To Crow About ALMA

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As the ALMA machinations unfold I would suggest that its role as the saviour of the livestock industry will be shown to be an expensive sham.

When the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy (ALMS) and its offspring, the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) were sprung on the livestock industry over a year ago, they were touted as the new way of doing things to save the cattle and hog business. Producers were bluntly told by the agriculture minister to get with the program or get out of the business. Its unfortunate that if there is any gauge of the success of ALMS it is most certainly that statement, as producers are exiting the cattle and hog business in droves.

If better returns and profitability for producers were the evaluation benchmark for ALMS and ALMA, both efforts can be judged to have come up short for the cattle and hog sectors. Contrary to the hopes for ALMA, it never was and never will be in a position to have an impact on prices – that’s the function of the North American marketplace.

If ALMA was to be evaluated on bringing change to the livestock and meat industry, then here too the score is very low. ALMA claims that it is not its function to initiate any programs. It says it’s there to facilitate, encourage and finance efforts that will bring change to the industry. That presumes that noble concept is somehow brand new to agriculture in this province. It seems to ignore that Alberta Agriculture over the past 30 years has spent hundreds of millions of dollars facilitating, encouraging and financing efforts to improve and expand agricultural production and processing.

To those of us who have watched ALMA unfold and remember past government efforts, we are mystified as to what is so bold and different about what ALMA is doing. Grants continue to flow to the same multitude of research, marketing and promotion projects – just as they always did.

But one thing has changed and that is the bureaucratic game of shuffle that has gone on between Alberta Agriculture and ALMA in its creation. Added to that is what seems like the amazing spending of taxpayer money on administration, travel, consultant fees, IT, rent and on and on. All of that came

to light when Alberta Farmer had to use the Freedom Of Information Act to force that information from a reluctant ALMA administration. It’s no wonder they were less than co-operative in volunteering the information. The expenditures do seem outrageous for what has been gained so far.

ALMA cites one-time startup costs, research expenses, legal costs, relocation costs etc. But Alberta Agriculture has been giving out millions in grants for years, much of it to the same groups and agencies that ALMA is now funding. Clearly there already was an infrastructure in place to hand out that cash. Did ALMA really need to reinvent the wheel?

Was it really necessary for ALMA to relocate to a new off-site office building and pay high rents when there is enough space in the existing agriculture building in Edmonton? ALMA is a government agency beholden to the minister of agriculture and exists at his whim. There is no point in pretending otherwise by moving it off the premises. That fools no one.

Does ALMA really need 30 full-time employees? Remember ALMA claims that it is only facilitating and funding initiatives just like the department did before the changeover.

As the ALMA machinations unfold, and with all due respect to the ALMA staff, who are doing the best they can, I would suggest that its role as the perceived saviour of the livestock industry will be shown to be an expensive sham. Unless it is reeled in, and impending overall government cutbacks may well do that anyway, ALMA will probably continue to expand and spend money on dubious exercises. Perhaps in the end ALMA may conclude that try as it may, the livestock business remains subject to the whims of the marketplace and international trade politics.

The Alberta livestock industry will survive in spite of ALMA and the present minister. We can only hope that those organizations that have worked so hard for so many years to develop and promote the livestock and meat industry will also survive, be able to recover and continue their good work.

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