Fields of wheat or cattle-filled pastures may be what comes to mind when thinking about the agricultural sector, but the sector is expanding and changing to meet global demand. Canola, barley, wheat and beef production do continue to be the drivers of the Alberta agricultural economy, but more farmers are embracing technology and planting new crops.
Producer-led research is helping the industry compete on a global scale. Harnessing Alberta’s long days of sunshine, farmers are bolstering income and adding resilience to the agriculture sector by adapting to emerging markets with alternative rotation crops such as hemp and lupins.
With world class research and training institutions dotting the province, the agribusiness community is poised for growth in all areas, including primary production, protein development and value-added products.
With significant planned investment in the sector and with a goal of attracting nearly $1.5 billion in investments by 2024, the province is providing support by expanding irrigation infrastructure and growing trades for job creation to ensure long term prosperity.
The province exports agricultural and food products to over 150 countries, making it one of the world’s true bread baskets.
The number of Albertans employed in the agriculture & agri-food sector
Value of Alberta’s exports of primary and processed agriculture & agri-food products
48% of Canada’s barley
32% of Canada’s wheat
29% of Canada’s canola
20% of Canada’s oats
Sources: Government of Alberta, Statistics Canada
The Strength of Straw
According to the fable of the three little pigs, building with straw meant the Big Bad Wolf would huff and puff and blow your house down.
But straw, a byproduct of grain farming, is the main ingredient in medium density fibre-board (MDF), which has many building applications. We’re used to seeing boards made of wood that’s been pressed together, but the MDF made from straw is more durable and environmentally friendly.
Basically, straw is a lot stronger than that old Big Bad Wolf had us believe. In 2021, Great Plains MDF announced a plan to build a fibreboard plant in the central Alberta hamlet of Equity, located about 130 kilometers northeast of Calgary, with access to the Canadian National (CN) rail line.
The plant is expected to employ hundreds, but it promises a symbiotic relationship with the farmers of the region. Already, a call has gone out to local farmers, as Great Plains looks for straw to supply the plant. For many farmers, the straw is the natural waste from the grain harvesting process — so this provides a new use, and a new market, for the material.
“This is a very exciting step forward for our project, our team, and of course central Alberta,” said Brian McLeod, president of Great Plains Innovations.
Innovations in Animal Bedding in Strathcona County
Animal bedding isn’t the first thing you’d think of when you hear the word “innovation.” But, for Strathcona Ventures, an agricultural supplier located in Strathcona County, a few kilometres east of the provincial capital of Edmonton, making better bedding for animals is a cornerstone of the business.
Canada’s National Farm Animal Care Council states that bedding for horses can be “straw, shavings, shredded paper and peat moss.”
But the bedding from Strathcona Ventures is made from dried Alberta white pine shavings, which is more absorbent than other types of bedding. The big advantage to farmers and ranchers is that the flakes are easily compressed, which makes them easier to go from storage areas to the pens.
And as Mother Nature is often the best innovator, the terpenes naturally found in pine keep insect populations at bay.
Getting The Most of the Growing Season in Northwest Alberta
As you head further north in Alberta, the summer sunshine lasts all that much longer. In the Mackenzie region, in the northwest corner of the province, the June–July days can each offer 19 hours of sunshine. And that makes for an accelerated growing season.
Farmers in this region have embraced the economic opportunities that organic farming provides. According to Mackenzie Agriculture, there were almost 300 organic farms in a region that has fewer than 25,000 residents.
While the majority of the organic crops grown in the Mackenzie are grains, it’s reported that organic pea sales to India account for $118 million in receipts a year. That’s a lot of green in those pods.