Alberta ag minister calls 2018 a year of ups and downs

For Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, 2018 was a mixed bag.

While speaking with The Western Producer in a year-end interview in December, he suggested the year got off to a shaky start.

He said trade uncertainty loomed large as governments were negotiating a new North American Free Trade Agreement. High tariffs on pulses from India didn’t help.

For farmers in Alberta, seeding was slightly delayed and, later in the year, harvest came to a stand-still as snow blanketed fields.

“The angst that it caused was pretty scary,” Carlier said of the wet weather. “We were hovering around 50 percent in the bin. It looked like it was going to be a wreck.”

But, somehow, he said things turned around.

While India hasn’t let up on its tariffs, the new NAFTA, or United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was signed, leaving agriculture mostly unscathed, except for the supply-managed sector.

Canada also ratified the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which opens trade to lucrative Asian markets.

“I think overall the new agreement (with the U.S. and Mexico) is going to do well for agriculture, though there are some concerns from dairy farmers and poultry producers about supply-managed sectors,” Carlier said.

“We’re working with the federal government to see what supports might be available. Hearing from producers, they don’t want compensation. They want to be able to work with what they have and continue to grow their operations.”

In addition to the changing trade environment, the weather in 2018 changed for the better in time to improve harvest prospects.

Alberta farmers, on average, managed to get 98 percent of crops in the bin, though there were some who harvested slightly less.

“There were some areas that didn’t get off as much as we hoped for, but otherwise, we got a bit lucky,” Carlier said. “We got our stuff in the bin. That was great.”

During the interview, Carlier noted his second trade mission to India since he was elected in 2015.

While he pushed for the reduction in tariffs and got little traction from officials there, he said the trip was successful.

The province renewed an agreement with the state of Meghalaya to push for the reduction in trade barriers and to set up a centre for excellence for pig operations.

“There are still some concerns there over pulses, but overall, the trip was an opportunity to meet with many folks to talk about trade opportunities,” he said.

Carlier spoke of the Canadian Agricultural Partnership program, an initiative that is making $406 million available for Alberta producers to lessen environmental impacts, while also making their operations more efficient.

Through the program, he said he’s seen examples of dairy farmers reducing energy costs by 80 percent.

“Some areas have been well received, but I think others need a little more education about how this program can advance agriculture,” he said.

The province’s local food bill also made news in 2018.

The bill has allowed a council of representatives from the industry to look at ways to help bolster the sector in Alberta.

As well, organic certification standards were changed to level the playing field and there will be a Local Food Week to celebrate Alberta’s growers and products.

In 2019, Alberta is expected to have a provincial election in the spring.

Carlier is running in the rural riding of Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland.

The NDP remains largely unpopular in rural Alberta, according to polls, but regardless of the outcome, Carlier said he is pleased.

“Whether I’m successful or not, I’ve had an opportunity to take part in this government and I’m proud of the work we have done,” he said.

“I’ve had four years of the best job of my life. It’s been a great honour and I’m looking forward to continue doing this work in my position.”

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