By Nikki Jamieson
Westwind Weekly News
The provincial government has been investing heavily in the agriculture industry over the past year with funding and infrastructure announcements.
“It’s about long-term sustainability, making sure agriculture is being supported in this province and I fully believe it is,” said Joseph Schow, MLA for Cardston-Siksika.
When the pandemic started a year ago in the province, it had presented some “unique challenges” in the agriculture sector. Schow said he believed the sector had adapted well in implementing safety protocols within their operations and ensuring employees are being kept safe, while sustaining supply chains.
“Agriculture is — essential, is an understatement,” said Schow. “I recognize this pandemic would be significantly worse if our supply chains in our agriculture sectors had been affected by this. So as a government, we’ve done everything we can to support our ag sector and I think we’ve done even more to expand it and make it even more viable going forward.”
One of the biggest issues during the pandemic is the COVID-19 outbreaks at meat-processing plants across the province. Since the pandemic began, there have been several outbreaks at these plants leading to temporary closures and workers dying after contracting COVID-19. Schow said they have responded as well as they could “under the circumstances,” and the industry has also responded well.
“There’s a number of concerns, but we’re trying to address them as they come up, and I think we’ve done so as well as possible.”
The provincial government’s 2021 Budget was released last month, and the biggest thing for it was more funding for irrigation. According to the budget, the province is contributing $245 million towards irrigation infrastructure projects in a partnership with Canada Infrastructure Bank and eight irrigation districts, for a total of $815 million to expand irrigated acres within existing irrigation districts.
On March 10, the province also introduced Bill 54, the Irrigation Districts Amendment Act, which would allow for irrigation districts to borrow funds for large-scale expansions of their irrigation works, help increase confidence for financial lenders and help create more consistent and secure funding access for irrigation districts.
“We’re looking at almost $1 billion of investment for irrigation in southern Alberta, something I am so proud of — because you’re looking at, and I think the most recent statistic I heard was a 3-1 return on investment. It increases the productivity of the land, it increases the value of the land, the availability of water, increases more investment opportunity for things like valueadded. This is a huge, huge investment, and it’s a clear indication our government is committed to supporting agriculture in this province.”
The government is also looking at making insurance rates manageable for producers, as well. Earlier this year, the Alberta government announced a move alongside the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) that farmers in Alberta will receive a 20 per cent reduction in crop insurance premiums this year, which will help farmers save more than $55 million.
The government is also investing in infrastructure, with Schow pointing to the Relaunch Program, with the capital planning, including $20.7 billion for building new roads, schools and hospitals over the next three years.
“You can’t have a viable agriculture sector without strong infrastructure, and as we expand agriculture, particularly in the south, there’s going to be a greater need for these things such as roads and schools and health care. And so I think it’s an all-encompassing investment going forward as we see greater investment in the province, we’re going to see greater increase in population, demand on our infrastructure and we recognize that, and we’re here to support the entire province — particularly agriculture.”