Agriculture remains one of the key industries within the County of Wetaskiwin and the variety of farming operations offer economic development ripples, affecting a wide array of other factors within the municipality and beyond its borders.
The county and the Joint Economic Development Initiative (JEDI)— a tri-partnership between the City of Wetaskiwin, County of Wetaskiwin and Town of Millet designed to foster economic growth in the region — hosted an agricultural forum on Dec. 7 to provide an educational conference and networking event touching on a variety of service and business needs of regional farmers, producers and companies.
There are 956 farms in the JEDI region and Rod Valdes, director of economic development, says it is the mission of JEDI to help the agricultural industry within the region grow and expand.
The first presenter of the forum was Travis Hillaby, regional operations manager of W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions.
Within the agriculture industry demands of services and products wax and wane, and pulse acres have been steadily growing over the past six years, says Hillaby.
With the demand for pulse crops such as yellow peas and lentils Hillaby says more agricultural producers are trying their hand with pulse crops. However, he did mention more success is being seen in southern Alberta, where the weather lends itself better to pulse crops.
“Yellow peas have been a big surprise this fall. Acres were a record in Canada, the United States and every other county that grows yellow peas,” said Hillaby.
In the future Hillaby does not think Canada will be able to keep up those records as other countries get into the market; more competition means a more slender market.
The demand for green peas has been erratic with no steady sales, but Hillaby says the market could see a return to green peas over yellow.
The projections for faba beans and lentils are not positive. Hillaby says most faba beans are sold as feed and the edibles market is not expected to grow in the next 24 months. Red lentils have fallen steadily while green is stronger at the moment due to a supply shortage.
W.A. Grain and Pulse Solutions owns two pulse plants in Alberta already. “(There are) future plans for a pulse processing plant in the area,” said Hillaby.
Bev Yee, deputy minister of Alberta Agriculture and Forestry says 2016 is the International Year of Pulses.
“I believe there is a potential for agriculture to strengthen its role. A strong economy needs diversification,” said Yee.
Yee says with the economy in its current state, municipalities, governments and producers need to work together to cultivate a stronger industry and tackle issues as they arise.
With Growing Forward 2 — a variety of programs and services provided to achieve a profitable, sustainable, competitive and innovative agriculture, agri-food and agri-products industry — coming to an end in 2018, Yee says government’s strategy for agri-support moving forward is a topic that looms continually. She added the levels of funding need to be consistant.
The Leduc Food Processing Development Centre is in the books for a $10 million expansion. Many international companies and investors use the centre’s “incubation” program to nuture small or start-up companies before graduating to their own space, many times staying in the region, says Yee.
Norm Richard, director of air service development with the Edmonton International Airport (EIA), demonstrated how other aspects of the region, such as EIA services, are helping to create a unified international agriculture industry.
Air China commenced operations at EIA 16 months ago and over the last six years EIA has seen consecutive cargo growth of 32 per cent.
“We’re actually a not-for-profit, we’re all about economic development,” said Richard.
Korean Airlines, as well as Japanese and other Asia-based airlines, are also customers of EIA.
Dan Orchard, an agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada, says more than 90 per cent of the canola grown in Canada is exported to markets across the world. The United States, Mexico, Japan and China are four of Canada’s main customers for canola seed, oil and meal. Orchard added the canola council is always beating the bushes for new customers.
Orchard says there is always a push to increase productivity or “bushels per acre” in Canada. Some approaches include genetic improvements, plant establishment, fertility management and integrated pest management.
“We have a significant problems with pests in canola,” said Orchard.
Orchard is heading to China this year, where weed management and harvesting is still done by hand, to see how canola oil is produced there.
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry crop specialist Harry Brook spoke to weed resistance and the benefits of crop rotation: insect control, weed control, disease control, soil advantages, and fertility and moisture efficiency.
Brian Perillat, manager and senior analyst with Canfax (a division of Canadian Cattlemen’s Association) says the world’s beef market has been flat without any real expansion.
“Thinking about the market, it peaked two years ago,” said Perillat, who added it is now downtrending.
He noted fluctuating market prices, even high prices, hurt the industry in the long run as buyers during that period could not make back the costs of the sale and were forced to take a hit.
In the United States beef prices hit five consecutive annual lows, mainly due to droughts. However, Perillat says the market is looking to expand as North America is now importing more beef and producing more, leaving more product than consumers are willing to buy. “The only way to do that is with lower prices.”