Timothy Hay is one of the most popular hay feeds for horses and cattle in Japan. The Asian country is Canada’s biggest export market for the crop – in 2016, more than 118,000 tonnes of timothy hay were sent across the Pacific Ocean to supplement Japan’s local supply.
Carolyn Kolebaba wants that number to be higher. Kolebaba is the Reeve of Northern Sunrise County – a rural municipality with a population of approximately 2,500 people that sits adjacent to the Town of Peace River about 480 kilometres north and west of Edmonton – and is one of a number of people who view transportation as the key to expanding industry in the northwest corner of the province.
“There are a lot of untapped opportunities in the region,” says Kolebaba. “We could do a lot of value-add with better transportation. We have asked for an east-west connector to Prince Rupert. That would be our connection to the west coast.”
Kolebaba notes that initiatives such as the Generating for Seven Generations Group feasibility study on a rail connection from northern Alberta to Alaska are the types of infrastructure that would put goods at tidewater and allow for greater access to Asian markets.
Increasing transportation links into and out of the province’s northwest region is a key goal of the Northern Transportation Advocacy Bureau (NTAB). The NTAB is a partnership between the Peace Region Economic Development Alliance (PREDA) and the Regional Economic Development Initiative for Northwest Alberta (REDI), two organizations dedicated to enhancing economic growth in the northwest region of Alberta and made up of more than 30 communities, including Northern Sunrise County. The focus of this committee is to highlight the need for transportation infrastructure in Alberta’s northwest to ensure the region is competitive and efficiently access the global markets.
“The biggest challenge for the region is more than growing more and different products, but getting more value-add for our product,” says Dan Dibbelt, general manager for PREDA and REDI.
Agricultural production and land are certainly not among those challenges. In fact, with three percent of Canada’s farmland located in northwest Alberta and nearly 5,000 farms in the region, with a 60-40 split between cropland and pasture, it’s a huge and diverse industry.
It’s also an industry with huge potential. A recent report from PREDA, Northwest Alberta – Agricultural Commodities, collected export data for the vast industry, examining what is shipped out of the country, how and to where.
From beef, pork and chicken to canola, wheat, alfalfa and creeping red fescue (a type of grass used in sod), the Peace Region has a huge breadth of agricultural production. While the United States is an important trade partner and a major importer of Canadian agricultural products, the report identifies some alternative regions for market growth. This could include sending canola seed to Japan and the Middle East or the importance of selling organic oats and timothy hay into Asia.
While the report identifies some opportunities to explore, the bigger focus for PREDA is identifying export opportunities and using it to make the case for increased transportation infrastructure in the province’s northwest.
“The purpose of this report is so that we can work on value-add and transportation infrastructure,” says Mary Joan Aylward, research and operations staff with PREDA and the author of the report.
It could be the link needed to help northwest Alberta realize its full economic potential.
Energizing Southern Alberta Transportation
After more than two years of development, the “Peaks to Prairies” electric vehicle charging network went live with the first few fast charging stations being energized in 2019.
Once complete, the $2 million project will include 20 fast charging installations across southern Alberta, creating a “backbone” of charging stations that will enhance tourism and economic development, providing a network of connectivity for electric vehicle travel along nine different highways across southern Alberta.
Peaks to Prairies was a collaborative effort from the SouthWest Regional Alliance, an economic development region that includes 16 rural communities in the province’s southwest; the SouthGrow Regional Initiative, a neighbouring economic region that comprises 26 communities across south central Alberta; and the cities of Lethbridge, Calgary and Medicine Hat.
This project is powered by Calgary-based ATCOenergy – a corporation with a diverse portfolio of businesses that includes electricity generation and distribution – and will represent a true clean energy network, as the charging stations will be powered by renewable energy.