With the United Conservative Party’s nomination process in full swing across Alberta, and getting people excited about next spring’s provincial election, there’s one topic that I think should be garnering more attention than minimum wage or even the carbon tax.
Agriculture, which plays a key role not only in the Alberta economy but in Alberta culture as well, rarely gets the attention it deserves. In 2016, the provincial government notes in a report that farm cash receipts equalled $13.5 billion. That’s a lot of money.
Speaking with a few farmers in the area recently, I’m a bit concerned about the regional economy. Why is that you say? Well, the strange weather we’ve had this summer could result in early ripening of crops, and that affects quality which in turn affects price and eventually affects the amount of money producers have in their pockets. And that affects all of us in Alberta
U.S. president Donald Trump is also concerning me with his unpredictable, childish behaviour. The recent 25 per cent tariff he placed on steel and aluminum is without a doubt going to affect the auto industry. But it’s also going to affect producers, because the big machinery that helps them farm is mostly made out of steel. If price tags have to jump 25 per cent…well, I don’t know about you, but if everything I bought every week suddenly increased in price by 25 per cent, that would cause me to take notice. Producers cannot afford a 25 per cent hike on machinery, and I doubt the machinery dealerships are any happier about this.
Another thing that frustrated me last year was the lack of grain cars being made available by the two big western rail companies, Canadian Pacific and Canadian National. Agriculture is such a tough arena to prosper in, and for producers to do everything correctly, then get lucky with weather and have decent prices for crops and livestock, and then see product sit because the railways can’t meet the contracts they signed must be frustrating at the very least.
This last spring agricultural lobby groups headed to Ottawa to hopefully prevent a repeat of the 2017 harvest and winter. According to the Canadian Press this past March, “An Ag Transport Coalition report released late last month found Canada’s largest railways supplied only 38 per cent of the grain cars requested by producers on time over a week long period in mid-February.
“The report pegged Canadian National’s performance over that period at 17 per cent — marking a sixth consecutive week of declines.” Producers need to ship their grain because they’ve got bills to pay too: overhead, staff, maintenance and much more. Grain bins sitting full all winter don’t help anyone, especially the businesses in the Wetaskiwin area who rely on farmers spending money.
Plus, there are customers all over the world who intended to buy that grain, and if only 17 per cent of it is arriving, that affects Canada’s international reputation.
It says that Canada doesn’t keep its promises, which is very disappointing for the Alberta farm community, which has for decades prided itself on integrity.
Let’s hope during the provincial election the issue of agriculture gets the attention it deserves.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the newspaper.