Financing Farms of the Future

Technology has transformed farm operations in recent years, and further innovations in robotics, automation and data analysis will underpin what one of Canada’s largest banks is calling a fourth agricultural revolution.

In a report from Canada’s largest bank, RBC – Farmer 4.0: How the Coming Skills Revolution Can Transform Agriculture – the bank notes that: “Canada could gain $11 billion in annual GDP by 2030 by closing the agriculture labour gap and accelerating investment in technology.” With over 70 percent of Canada’s irrigated land in southern Alberta, this fertile region of the province will play a key role in taking advantage of this opportunity – if resources are available.

“As technology transforms so quickly, it’s vitally important that producers stay abreast of the 
latest trends and available resources,” says Dale Locken, regional business banking manager with Chinook Financial Credit Union in Claresholm – an agricultural town of around 3,700 people, about 110 kilometres south of Calgary.

Chinook Financial is a division of Connect First Credit Union, which is Canada’s seventh largest credit union with a network of 42 branches and $5.4 billion in assets under management. Locken and the Claresholm branch of Chinook Financial are working to create another network to ensure farmers get the investment and financing required to support technological advances.

The credit union invited members and non-members within the agricultural and commercial community to attend a focus group, 
discuss the needs of agri-business, and evaluate if there is a need to establish an Ag Resource Centre.

“What we heard is that agri-businesses need more support on the ground. They want us 
visiting their operations, being more responsive to their needs and developing stronger relationships,” says Locken. “Building a network of stakeholders helps not only in the dissemination of information around new technology, but can also lead to the creation of new technology and processes via roundtables and think tanks.”

At the same time that the credit union is looking at options, the 16 communities within the Alberta SouthWest Regional Economic Development Alliance have launched an “Energizing Agricultural Transformation” project to bring together community leaders, producers and 
suppliers to support learning and collaboration to expand regional agri-businesses.

“It’s important that we’re working together to generate awareness, identify future trends, attract dynamic partners and continue to grow healthy, prosperous communities and businesses,” says Bev Thornton, executive director of Alberta SouthWest. “It’s exciting to see community and business partners come together, listen to farmers, implement new initiatives to support those who invest in southwest Alberta, and help them succeed.”