New Sask. economic plan leans on agriculture

Province hopes to increase value of exports by 50 percent and develop more markets worth $1 billion in exports

Agricultural targets loom large in Saskatchewan’s updated growth plan.

The document, released by Premier Scott Moe Nov. 14, sets out actions and goals to strengthen the economy and build the population.

Some of the goals were already mentioned in last month’s throne speech, including increasing agricultural processing.

But the economic strategies contained in the document “30 goals for 2030” offer more specifics:

  • Increase the value of exports by 50 percent from $31 billion.
  • Develop more international markets worth $1 billion in exports or more. Currently there are three — United States, China and Japan.
  • Increase agri-food exports to $20 billion from $13.4 billion in 2018.
  • Increase crop production to 45 million tonnes and livestock cash receipts to $3 billion. Crop production in 2018 was 35.4 million tonnes, while livestock cash receipts were $2.3 billion.
  • Expand irrigation.
  • Increase value-added revenue from agriculture to $10 billion, up from about $5 billion in 2017.
  • Crush 75 percent of Saskatchewan-grown canola in the province.
  • Process 50 percent of Saskatchewan-grown pulse crops in the province.
  • Double meat processing and animal feed value-added revenue to more than $1 billion.

The plan includes details on how the government intends to meet the targets. It may offer targeted support to existing meat processors, and “investment attraction initiatives” to new processors would help double meat processing capacity, the government states.

Adding 85,000 acres of infill development and pursuing private sector investment will expand irrigation capacity.

Increasing crop production will come from more research and technology and from pressing Ottawa to increase regulatory efficiency, including new varieties developed through new breeding techniques.

The pledges to process more canola and pulses domestically rely on new investment, research and new genetics.

Saskatchewan processed 40 to 45 percent of its canola crop, worth about $3 billion in revenue. Increasing the crush to 75 percent would add $2 billion, the government estimates.

On the pulse side, only about 10 percent of peas are processed in Saskatchewan. Expanding that to 50 percent would add $1 billion in new value-added revenue.

In conjunction with the growth plan, the government announced it will, in 2020-21, open trade and investment offices in the key markets of Japan, India and Singapore. It currently has just one in Shanghai.

Moe noted that Saskatchewan’s traditional economic drivers all rely on international markets, and building relationships is key.

“The new trade offices will connect Saskatchewan businesses with customers and will also promote the province to potential investors,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan farmer and Canadian Canola Growers Association president Bernie McClean said he was recently in Japan working to maintain the canola market.

“Three new Saskatchewan offices in Asia are going to help farmers and industry grow new markets and expand others, all with the goal of driving the value of our exports, which is essential to the province’s economy,” he said in a news release.

Cattle producer organizations expressed similar thoughts, noting the growth potential for beef in Japan.

Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association president Bill Huber said increased canola and pulse processing benefits the livestock industry through additional feed from byproducts.

The growth plan also calls for $30 billion in infrastructure investment. Huber said that could be used to expand irrigation capacity and stabilize food production.

The Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association said it was encouraged that Saskatchewan was taking international trade seriously.

“Numerous countries around the world have been limiting access to our grain, oilseeds and pulse markets, and part of the solution is to have boots on the ground to build relationships and solve little problems before they become big ones,” said president Gunter Jochum.

Saskatchewan also announced a $240,000 contract with Harper and Associates, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s firm, to support its focus on international trade, particularly in Asia.

The day after the plan was announced, Harper was to accompany Saskatchewan Trade Minister Jeremy Harrison to India.

The plan was announced just days after the first face-to-face meeting between Moe and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since the October federal election.

Moe said afterward that nothing had changed in the sometimes bitter relationship between the two.

Moe had asked for the federal carbon tax backstop to be put on hold, changes to the equalization formula and better market access.

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