Alberta farm leaders’ wish list for the next provincial government is lengthy, yet they all speak of more money for research, better market access, concerns over current farm safety legislation and the impacts of the carbon tax on their ability to compete.
Alberta Barley Commission chair
Barley growers want to grow their business, which means improved market access through trade deals and fewer regulatory hurdles.
They also want recognition for farm sustainability efforts.
“Alberta barley farmers are pretty sustainable for our cropping practices and rotations as it is, but we don’t always get recognized for that,” said commission chair Dave Bishop, who farms near Barons.
More efficient farm machinery and precision agriculture has made them more sustainable, but the $30 per tonne carbon levy has not made him reduce greenhouse gas emissions or become more efficient. Farm fuel is exempted from the levy, but it is paid on all other farm inputs, including freight.
“We can’t pass that on to our customer, so we are looking at ways that could be rectified. If they got rid of the carbon levy, that would be easiest, but that is not likely to happen,” he said.
“Carbon has always cost the farmer money, even before they talked about a carbon levy.”
The barley commission funds research and wants that capacity to stay in Alberta. Government should continue to fund salaries and infrastructure, while the commissions can support agronomy and variety development.
“Innovation would help us be more competitive,” he said.
“We need support for training and scientific research and we need collaboration. We need a transparent process for allocating research funding.”
The barley commission was part of the Agriculture Coalition formed with membership from all the Alberta commodity groups after the introduction of Bill 6 governing farm safety. The commission supports the formation of AgSafe Alberta, a producer-led body that provides training and education.
“We think we should be able to regulate our own safety issues without having to have big input from the government,” he said.
“Safety has always been of great importance for everybody. On my farm, it is one of the number one things we are attuned to because it is my family on the farm.”
Alberta Beef Producers chair
Alberta Beef Producers wants provincial legislation governing farm safety repealed and replaced with regulations that recognize the unique nature of agricultural labour requirements.
“We believe in farm safety and we can make improvements, but we think this legislation is flawed and perhaps tainted to the point where it will never do what it needs to do and that is improve safety on all farms,” said Charlie Christie from his Trochu ranch.
Farmers need choice in selecting their insurance programs, and many probably have not signed up with the workman’s compensation board.
As for finding hired help, the beef producers want a more streamlined approach to bring in foreign workers for Alberta farms and processing plants with an offer of permanent residency. This would mean an adjustment to the Temporary Foreign Workers Program and enhancing the provincial nominee program.
The beef producers spent $150,000 on research and extension last year and fear the province is in danger of losing capacity for livestock and crops without more public investment.
The carbon levy should be axed because he doesn’t think it is reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We should make our contributions to climate change somewhere else. I don’t believe this will,” he said.
“It is limited in what we can do, and it puts us at an uncompetitive advantage against our biggest competitor south of us.”
Alberta Canola Producers chair
Shrinking research capacity and the provincial carbon tax are major concerns for canola growers.
Canola producers pay a levy of $1 per tonne, and about 20 cents is set aside for research. At the same time, government support for research and extension is shrinking.
“There has been an erosion with matching government funds to the levy dollar we invest in research,” said John Guelly, who farms near Westlock.
“There is definitely some research capacity disappearing. We don’t see the retiring researchers being replaced as fast as we have seen before.”
The carbon levy cost his farm money because it applies to energy use, fertilizer, pesticides and transport.
“We sequester a lot of carbon in the soil, and don’t see a lot of benefit from that. We would at least like to see more exemptions from the carbon levy.” he said.
“The carbon credits we have been getting have been minimal to none compared to what we are spending.”
Market access is another issue. If the province buys more rail cars to move oil and gas to the West Coast, that could affect farmers’ access to grain cars.
“We need a pipeline for oil and gas so we can keep our canola and grains on the rail,” he said.
“It is going to become cumbersome very soon if we start shipping that much oil on the rails.”
Alberta Chicken Producers chair
Agriculture’s contribution to the provincial economy is sometimes forgotten, says Jason Born, chair of Alberta Chicken Producers.
Growth has been substantial for this sector, where 253 farmers produced 167 million kilograms of chicken last year, a six percent increase each year since 2014. More provincial processing capacity is needed.
The organization also wants more investment into poultry diagnostic services for the sake of bird health and food safety.
“There are other governments across Canada that put much more resources into diagnostics than our provincial government does,” he said.
“We would like to see that investment increased.”
The urban-rural divide is a concern for food producers, who worry the public has lost touch with the importance of agriculture to the provincial economy.
“The economy is challenging in Alberta right now and there is no doubt tax dollars are scarce, so they need to be allocated efficiently and effectively,” Born said.
“We all agree with that, but there is tremendous opportunity in agriculture and there is opportunity for investment that will grow agriculture in Alberta and make it the strategic resource of the economy it is.”
Alberta Milk chair
More processing is needed in Alberta so milk can be handled locally. That is the message that Tom Kootstra of Alberta Milk delivered to the provincial standing committee for Alberta’s economic future before the election was called.
“As the Canadian market for dairy has grown, the investment in processing sector in Alberta has not kept pace, so we find ourselves moving milk to plants in other provinces,” said Kootstra from his Ponoka farm.
“For the primary producer to prosper in Alberta, we have to have investment in processing to realize that potential. Dairy is just one of several.”
Investors may have shied away because of the impacts of the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement, but they also have concerns about higher costs because of Alberta’s higher electricity rates and the carbon tax.
Rural internet service is also critical to technologically advanced sectors such as dairy.
“There are places where dial-up is still an option,” Kootstra said.
“Our business and our communication has become so dependent on the internet that it is critical that we have the type of service that urban Albertans enjoy as well in order for us to do our business and communicate.…
“Modern agriculture has continued to evolve with technology, and the internet is integral to that technological evolution, so it is important for rural Alberta.”
He also wants the province to provide continued support for supply management, even though the province says this is a federal issue.
It is all part of the divide that exists between rural and urban representatives.
“The number of rural MLAs continues to decline in relation to the urbanites,” Kootstra said.
“Many of our elected MLAs do not have a background in agriculture, so agriculture has a lot of work to communicate our interests to all MLAs and specifically those that do not have a rural background.”