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Building the Lethbridge region as an Agrifood Hub

Aug 20, 2018
The last days of August are a bittersweet time as summer winds down and the return to school or regular work schedules are just over the horizon.

Of course, after summer comes the harvest, which is also a good time to take stock of the ways the agriculture sector continues to be a major contributor to the success and economic stability of southern Alberta. For Alberta farmers, 2018 has been a mixed bag. As of June 2018, canola, wheat and barley prices have increased on a year-over-year basis, with barley prices climbing by 22 per cent from last year. Both barley and wheat also recorded healthy increases in the number of seeded acres in Alberta in 2018 on a year-over-year basis (nine per cent and seven per cent respectively). These are leading crops planted in southern Alberta, so robust activity in these crops is good news for the agriculture sector.

Overall net cash income for farmers in Alberta was $3.6 billion in 2017, an increase of 7 per cent year-over-year and accounting for nearly a quarter of the Canadian total. Net cash income measures farm business cash flow (gross revenue minus operating expenses) generated from the production of agricultural products and is a gauge of overall profitability.

While these numbers are positive, it’s also important to acknowledge the challenges that the agrifood sector in Alberta faces. For example, 2018 saw steep declines in seeded acres of dry peas and lentils compared to the prior year. These crops had seen strong growth in the past, but trade tariffs applied by India (the world’s largest consumer of pulse crops) to Canadian exports has put a damper on production in Alberta and across Canada. The ongoing trade dispute with the United States also casts a shadow of uncertainty over Alberta’s farms, with steel tariffs threatening to drive up costs of new farm equipment.

Helping producers and processors in south western Alberta meet those challenges is one of our goals at Economic Development Lethbridge. We continue to work to build strategic partnerships to focus on the long-term future of the Lethbridge region as an agrifood hub, especially in value-added processing, while also educating investors about opportunities in the region.

As individuals, the best way to support Alberta farmers is to simply choose Alberta-grown products wherever you can. Late August is a great time to visit your local farmer’s market for some of the best produce and other foodstuffs you’ll find anywhere. Or maybe you had the chance to celebrate Local Food Week in Alberta (August 12-19) which highlights all things grown, made, and harvested in our province. Local Food Week culminates in Alberta Open Farm Days on August 18 and 19 in which farmers across the province open their doors to showcase their products and the work they do to keep Alberta fed.

Another way to mark the connection between southern Alberta’s prosperity and the agricultural industry is to check out Whoop-Up Days on August 21 to 25. For the past 121 years,  this event has been a highlight of summer, a chance for the whole family to enjoy rides, food and entertainment. Whoop-Up Days actually began in 1897 at the agricultural grounds in Queen Victoria Park (today’s Gyro Park), adding a rodeo competition in 1904, eight years before the first Calgary Stampede and two years after the Raymond Stampede, Canada’s oldest rodeo. The farmers and ranchers who built this event also planted the seeds for the more than 1,200 agriculture and agri-food related businesses that exist in the Lethbridge area today, making this sector a key source of employment and economic activity for the region.




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