Steady Growth of Alberta’s Agriculture

Caifu Magazine | by Caifu Global

Alberta is a very unique province in Canada, which is not only the base of conservatism but also the base of traditional agriculture. The so-called oil sand energy industry is developing as an emerging industry. Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba are usually collectively called “Three Provinces of Grassland” which is reputed as granary of Canada. Alberta has highly-developed agriculture and therefore has strong competitive edge in agriculture and is widely recognized as “Home of Agriculture”. It is famous around the world for its fine grains, oil seeds, vegetables, lean meat and milk products etc. Actually, the agriculture of Alberta is in the transformation to modern pattern. This transformation will be not reflected only in mechanization and deep processing but also in management and organizational structure. All of these provide a strong momentum to subsequent development of agriculture in Alberta, representing the major direction of Canadian agriculture.

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Favorable geographical conditions

Alberta has a total land area of 661.2 thousand square kilometers, accounting for 6.8% of the total land area. Also, it is one of two inland provinces in Canada. About 90% of it is plain, which provides natural favorable conditions for effective reclamation and planting.

Because the south of Alberta is smooth plain and falls into temperate zone grassland region, its soil fertility is very strong, and can be said to be extremely strong. Most areas that are not covered by forests are used as farm or pasture. In the north and middle of Alberta, it is often seen that farms and pastures are mixed and but in the south of Alberta, irrigated farms are often seen.

The southeast of Alberta is mostly the wasteland. Red Deer River forms a distinct landform here such as deep valleys by a series of impact and polishing etc. after flowing through smooth plain and farmland. Near Brooks is Dinosaur Provincial Park where geographical model of this wasteland, desert pant community and leftovers from dinosaur era are displayed.

Alberta is located at north latitude 49° - 60°in the western hemisphere and falls into continental climate which has four distinct seasons. The annual average rainfall of the whole province is between 300-600mm which is basically the same to that of Heilongjiang in China.

Alberta has a total arable land of 20.964 million hm2, crop planting area of which is 9.616 million hm2, and summer fallow is 1.42 million hm2, forage planting area is 1.892 million hm2, natural pasture is 6.54 million hm2 and other land is 1.50 million hm2 (see Fig 1).

The western granary mainly produces wheat.

al2The economy of Alberta has been based on such resources as wheat, coal, petroleum and natural gases etc. The production of barley, wheat and oat of Alberta respectively takes 45%, 30% and 24% of total production of Canada. Wheat is the most important export farm products in Alberta. In 1999, its output value reached about 930 million Canada dollars, ranked 2nd that year in all export products in Alberta.

By taking the year of 2001 as example, the crop planting area of the whole province is 9.616 million hm2, planting area of grains of which is 5.46 million hm2 , taking 56.8%, (including wheat 2.74 million hm2 (spring wheat 2.324 million hm2 ), oat 0.544 million hm2, barley 19.6 thousand hm2, corn 2 thousand hm2, rye 48 thousand hm2) and planting area of oil crops is 1.08 million hm2, taking 11.2% (including rape 1.064 million hm2, flax 16 thousand hm2, soy bean 35.2 hm2 (423.6 hm2 in 2000)sunflower 646.4 hm2 ), and planting area of forage and fodder crops are 2.492 million hm2, taking 25.9%.

The planting area of other crops is 360 thousand hm2, taking 3.8% (including potato 23.2 thousand hm2, mustard seed 22.8 thousand hm2, sugar beet 12 thousand hm2, pea 244 thousand hm2 and other beans 60 thousand hm2 ) (see Table 1).

Because Canadian Wheat Board has no monopoly on Canada West market any longer, Alberta could attract more businessmen to make investment in local agriculture which will directly bring benefits to local people. Sources from Department of Agriculture of Alberta said the farmers who make major investment will have more freedom to decide on their own to sell their crops to any persons.

It is estimated that grain products with wheat as main will be consumed at faster speed each day. This increasing consumption mainly results from the following factors: increasing population, preference of consumers for wheat products, level of income, and prices of other foods, health and dieting etc.

Canada West market is open to businesses

Alberta has its advantage in the fact that it is a Canada West market with a population of 9.1 million including rural population of 370 thousand and farm population of 190 thousand. There are a total of 53652 farms in the whole province with average arable land area of 388hm2 including 8170 farms with arable land area of more than 640hm2.

In Alberta, farming is mainly operated by individual family. They are also typical family farms.

Alberta is a leading province in Canada to implement free trade and overseas investment strategy. The WTO negotiations have direct impact on the agriculture of this province.

There are many factors that have impact on incomes of farmers such as prices of farm products, prices of means of production, sales volume and climates etc. Alberta has noted that the proper scale of basic agricultural operation unit is one of factors that affect incomes of farmers. Therefore business scale may be properly expanded to further improve comprehensive benefits of agricultural production and operation. So, the number of farms in Alberta is decreased from 58056 to 53652 between 1981 and 2001, with a decrease of 7.8% while the farm land scale is increased from 325.2 hm2 to 388.0 hm2 during such period with an increase of close to 20%. During the 20 years, the gross revenue from agriculture increased from 3.26 billion Canada dollars to 9.92 billion Canada dollars, with an increase of three plus folds and average sales revenue of farms increased from 56 thousand Canada dollars to 185 thousand Canada dollars with an increase of 3.3 folds. All of these show that the improvement of comprehensive benefits of farms is directly related to expansion of business scale.

In Alberta, you may find many U-Pick farms. Also, you may find many seasonal farm produces or home-made desserts on roadside. So, you could buy fresh seasonal farm produces, meats and cheeses in farm produce market, at the gate of farm or inside U-Pick farm. Even though you are in the downtown of Calgary or Edmonton, you still could buy fresh seasonal farm produces, fresh meats and cheeses in the market.

In order to straighten up farm produce market, Alberta Market Gardeners Association is established. This Association directly sells vegetables, fruits and grains. You find where the fruits abound, and where the foods are freshly baked. Sometimes, you may find the cheap and good foods in downtown, or in sunny pasture, or at the gate of a farm.

Agricultural service functions are complete

Alberta is originally developing from backward agricultural production. Even though it is in the primary stage, these farm owners or grassland owners are active to join together to improve their production and living level. On Jan. 14, 1909, some farmer bodies are established including Alberta Farmers Federation and Canada Society of Notary Public etc. in order to join hands to benefit each other, a more powerful organization named United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) is established by merger. At the year of establishment, as many as 5000 farmers joined in this organization.

Till now, Alberta has its own independent and complete agricultural service system, including Farmers'Advocate and Irrigation Council etc. which could help farmers to settle any disputes about debts and provide relevant financial management or consulting services. The farmer’s Advocate was set up under the leadership of Minister of Agriculture in 1973 who thought it is necessary to have a special organization to take responsibility to settle any affairs relating to benefits of farmers and protect the benefits of them as possible.

The agricultural service organization of Alberta plays an important role in daily life of farmers and could be further improved with passage of time. As a supporting organization of government, this organization has its irreplaceable function in the routine life. If such factors as agricultural infrastructure, agricultural industrial structure, farming technology promotion, and agricultural machines etc. are regarded as “hardware”, and such factors as agricultural services and management, rural service organization building, rural community services, agricultural and farmers education etc. are regarded as “software”, then many experiences that Alberta has in “software ”could be drawn on. For example, Rural Financial Service Company of Alberta which is similar to China’s Rural Credit Cooperative in many aspects, has more service scope and more specific service targets, and especially it uses market mechanism to provide crop insurance, farm disaster assistance and rural debts regulation service, which is greatly helpful to protect benefits of farmers and maintain social stability of countryside.

These agricultural service organizations of Alberta have three characteristics: firstly, it does play an important role in routine production and life of farmers. Many things that should be regulated by government are now directly managed by Association, such as prices and market regulation, industry management and supervision, market investigation and analysis, collection of partial agricultural fees, (as required by Alberta laws, 0.4 Canada dollars for each ton of barley sold out by farmers and 0.2 Canada dollars for each ton of wheat sold out by farmers will be taken as agricultural R&D fund.  Such fund will be collected respectively by Barley Society and Wheat Society.) and some project fund operation and management (Irrigation Council) etc. Secondly, the government and farmers join together to set up association or council which mostly consists of representative farmers or governmental officials. Thirdly, a higher social status should be given to the association. For example, such organizations as agricultural financial service company, Grains Society of Alberta, Irrigation Council, Farmer’s Advocate, Agricultural Marketing Association etc. are directly responsible to Director of Department of Agriculture and also could act on behalf of the director.

The reason why such agricultural associations in Alberta could play such an important role is the transformation of governmental functions and management concepts to promote agricultural legislation to protect the benefits and social status of farmers and drive healthy development of agriculture and villages. Laws should be made for each aspect of agriculture, villages and farmers, especially for benefits of farmers to protect the agriculture, villages and farmers legally.

The management concept of “human oriented” is fully reflected in various agricultural service organizations, governmental functions and agricultural laws etc. in order to focus on protecting the benefits of farmers.

Support the deep processing of farm produce

Alberta is famous for its high quality and high yield crops. Besides used as fodders or exported, these grains could be also used for flour processing, baking and industrial products etc. Alberta has many world-class corporations whose products are sold to each corner of Canada and other countries. Food Baking Companies have stable market shares in the past several years. Due to better production technology, packing processes, and traffic conditions etc, more and more foods are produced which further promotes development of the whole baking industry.

In the past 20 years, Alberta developed diversified economy to gain high-speed growth by producing high value-added products, especially by producing the foods closely relating to agriculture.

Professionalism is one of major characteristics of modern agriculture. The professional production of Alberta is mainly reflected in both regional layout and labor division of family farm. In terms of region layout, Alberta has its own different regional superiority for production of farm produce and in terms of labor division, the family farm consists of livestock farm and grain farm and mixed farm and specialty crops farm. These farms are highly modernized and each laborer could be equipped with two tractors on average. It is said that there are some local farms that start to employ smart robot to milk the cows.

In 2000, the gross revenue from food processing and beverage in Alberta reached 9.2 billion Canada dollars, exceeding output value of manufacturing industry of the whole province by 22%. Guided by exports for food processing, the export volume of farm produce reached 5.1 billion Canada dollars in 2000. The export volume of value-added products processed between 1996 and 2000 increased by 62%. Compared with this, the raw materials (unprocessed products) decreased by 22%. The export volume of value-added products processed takes 46% of total exports of farm produce of the whole province. This percentage was only 29% in 1996.

Alberta also is the major producer of double-low rapeseeds. Its production reached close to 3 million tons in 1999, taking 1/3 of total production of the whole country. In recent years, the production of double-low rapeseed is continuously expanding and the export volume is sharply increasing. The export markets mainly include China, Mexico and Japan. Recently a large quantity of double-low rapeseed is refined in Alberta. The double-low rapeseed oil mill in Alberta has an annual production capacity of 1.5 million tons. Additionally, Alberta also produces a small quantity of flax seeds and other oil seeds. In 1999, the production of flax was 43200 tons, taking about 4% of total production of the whole country. This industry includes oil mills, refining factory, edible oil manufacturer and industrial lubricant manufacturers etc. Also, Alberta produces double-low rapeseed cake and protein byproducts etc.

Special attention is paid to agricultural research and talent education.

Alberta has a long history in agricultural research and agricultural education and therefore has established complete system and made many achievements.

Lethbridge Research Station of Alberta is the largest research station in Canada West which focuses on soil fertilizer research. The target of the soil science department of this station is to maintain and intensify the soil productivity and protect the environment and improve water utilization benefits.  There are a total of 15 scientists who respectively engage in soil management, and water and climate. In order to predict the effect of irrigation and pasture rotation on the soil quality in the future, several group of tests are arranged, some of which were started in 1911 and continued for 82 years. The crop rotation for one test is: 1. Continuous wheat  cropping  2. Fallowing – wheat –wheat. Subtreatment (start from 1967) is as follows: 1. No fertilizer, 2. Apply ammonia 3. Apply phosphorus 4. Apply

The colleges of agriculture and forestry are the major colleges of University of Alberta. This university also set up many agricultural R&D stations and could be ranked top 5 in terms of R&D power in Canada.

Olds College is a public agricultural college which was established by government in 1913 and now operates subject to administration rules of University of Alberta.

Cooperation between Alberta and China in agriculture

Asia is the largest partner of Alberta next to USA, which includes Japan, China, Korea and China Taiwan. Alberta always pays a special attention to the partners of Asia and set up six offices in the region. China (including Hong Kong) is the third largest market of Alberta, next to USA and Japan. The gross value of products exported to China each year exceeds 600 million Canada dollars and gross value of products exported to Hong Kong also exceeds 100 million Canada dollars. These exports mainly include farm produces.

Besides farm produce trade, Alberta also conducted cooperation with China in such aspects as agricultural technology, and agricultural management etc. It could be clearly stated by the following examples:

At the end of Sep. 2012, a delegation of Canada West arrived at Beijing to promote wider-scope and higher-quality cooperation with China in agriculture and products. The new cooperation covers Alberta, Province of British Columbia and Saskatchewan, which are collectively listed as one of important economic areas of Canada. This area’s gross output value exceeds USD 550 billion Yuan including more than 70% of agricultural products and sea foods exported to China. This delegation to Beijing is headed by Jason· Krips, relation assistant and deputy director of Alberta International and Inter-Governmental Relations Department , Vis·Smark, deputy director of Department of Agriculture of British Columbia and Alana·Kehe, deputy director of Department of Agriculture of Saskatchewan. For Canada West and the new cooperation organization, China is a very important market as well as a large partner. Last year, the gross value of goods exported from this area to China reached USD 2.1 billion Yuan. The new partnership will continue to promote the trading relations with China and seek new chance to realize mutual benefits and double win. The delegations of new cooperation relations will hold seminars to discuss any cooperation chances in trading and investment, agriculture and foods with China importers, dealers and representatives from processing and foods industry.

In sep. 2013, Alison·Redford, the governor of Alberta and Lu Hao, governor of Heilogjiang jointly signed letter of intent for cooperation to confirm the cooperation in sustainable development, and environmental protection, especially in agriculture, energy and forestry as priority in bilateral cooperation, aiming to expand mutual-benefit relations. Mr. Lu Hao said, “2013 is the 32nd anniversary of friendly relations between Heilongjiang and Alberta and we warmly welcome enterprises from Alberta to engage in agriculture and food processing in Heilongjiang, realizing double-win cooperation”. Ms. Redford said, “Alberta is willing to intensify exchanges with Heilongjiang in terms of education, improvement of added value of farm produce and food safety etc. and finally realize double-way investment and technical cooperation between both parties.”

Apr. 10, 2014, Wang Xinping, consul general of China in Calgary met with Verlyn Olson director of Department of Agriculture in Edmonton, the capital of Alberta. Mr. Wang said, “the cooperation with Alberta is fast developing in recent years and our cooperation is mainly focused on agriculture. The export of farm produce of Alberta takes 20% of total exports of Canada. Such products as rapeseed, wheat, furs, and beef etc. are exported to China in large quantity, taking 3/4 of total trade volume between both parties. It is believed that the cooperation in agricultural investment, trading and technology etc. is promising. Alberta is a leading player to promote Sino-Canada relations. It is known that Chester Ronning played an important role in establishing diplomatic relations and developing friendly cooperation. It is said that he is your fellow townsman and I hope to have a chance to meet with his descendants to honor his achievements.”

Verlyn Olson, director of Department of Agriculture said that agriculture is the second largest industry in Alberta and China is one of important export markets of Alberta. So, we welcome more Chinese enterprises to make investment in Alberta in farm produce processing to increase added value of products and bring more products to China.[:zh]

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