Alberta launches new funding opportunity for agriculture

The $40 million fund is intended to provide economic benefits to the agricultural sector and help it reduce emissions

The Alberta government will be providing funds to agriculture ventures that demonstrate they can help boost the economy and lower carbon emissions through innovation.

The $40 million in new funds, announced in early June, will be funnelled through Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA). The provincial corporation is requesting industry members to submit applications.

The forestry industry will also be able to take part in the program.

“The importance of the agriculture sector is critical to Alberta’s economy,” said chief executive officer Steve MacDonald.

“Alberta is so much more than oil and gas and, when you look at the economic benefits of the agriculture sector, it employs over 100,000 Albertans and is a big player with cattle,” he said.

The money comes from Alberta’s Technology Innovation and Emissions Reduction fund, an initiative that is funded by industry through carbon pricing.

The government says it will help farmers, ranchers, industry and innovators navigate the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as ongoing market implications.

It said the innovations will lead to lower production and processing costs for food and fibre, as well as outline ways the environment can be used to sequester carbon.

MacDonald said an acceptable project is one that will solve a problem that both the market and industry agrees needs solving.

“Innovators sometimes say, ‘I’ll build it, and the market will come.’ That happens sometimes, but in this competition, applications have to demonstrate there is a commercial opportunity in solving a problem the market wants solved.”

He said potential projects need customers and investors. The program requires private investment.

As well, while projects need to demonstrate positive economic potential, they must also show how they will reduce carbon emissions, MacDonald said.

Projects that may be accepted should be in the field test or pilot stage, the near-commercial stage or at a stage where it’s ready to be fully operational commercially.

ERA will fund up to $5 million per project and up to 50 percent of the total project costs. The minimum contribution from private industry must be at least $250,000, MacDonald said.

MacDonald said this requirement might be adjusted as long as there is strong justification.

He said ERA recognizes some projects may be unable to generate lots of investment but are still worth considering.

“It’ll be on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“We recognize the nature of the industry, so we’ve created an opportunity for flexibility.”

ERA will accept applications through a competitive review process with the help of a team of experts in science, engineering, business development, commercialization, finance and greenhouse gas quantification.

Since 2009, the provincial corporation has funded more than $95 million worth of projects in food, fibre and biological industries.

It said these projects are estimated to reduce carbon dioxide equivalent emissions by 11.4 million tonnes by 2030.

MacDonald said previous investments have shown positive results.

For example, it helped fund a feed additive initiative that sees cattle reduce methane emissions. Another company has also been able to turn a byproduct from the energy sector into a spray for soil use, he added.

He said he sees opportunity in monitoring and measuring emissions, as well as using natural systems and no-till practices as ways to sequester carbon.

“It’s not only looking at technology, but also using those nature-based solutions to drive emission reductions,” he said.

As well, he said he sees potential in using big data to figure out how to improve management practices.

Given the economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially on the energy sector, Alberta will need to innovate and move forward, MacDonald said.

He said the province will need to explore how it can be successful in a low-carbon future. Cost and carbon competitiveness in the energy, electricity and agriculture sectors will remain prominent, he added.

“The investment community and customers continue to demand evidence that companies are doing this (showing they are sustainable), and Alberta gets that and, even though we have possibly a more difficult path given our heavy reliance on oil and gas revenues, there is a commitment and we’ve shown we can do it. I’m optimistic,” he said.

The longer-term view can’t get lost when addressing urgent needs, he added.

In 2017, Alberta emitted more than 43 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent from agricultural, agri-food and forestry operations combined. This is more than 28 percent of Canada’s total emissions from these sectors, the ERA said.

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