Agri-business boom keeping economic downturn at bay in parts of southern Alberta

It doesn't usually get as much attention as the province's oil and gas sector, but the agriculture industry is protecting much of southern Alberta from the economic downturn right now.

LETHBRIDGE — It doesn’t usually get as much attention as the province’s oil and gas sector, but the agriculture industry is protecting much of southern Alberta from the economic downturn right now.

The city of Lethbridge and surrounding area are enjoying a bit of a boom largely fuelled by high beef prices and a burgeoning agri-food manufacturing industry.

“It’s a very, very different picture here from the rest of the province,” said Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge.

“We’ve never had the oil and gas, so we’ve never had the boom from that, but the flip side is we don’t see the significant downside when things go the other way.

“That’s not to say there aren’t storm shadows on the horizon. Clearly there’s risk and we’re not an impenetrable fortress over here.”

Alberta’s agriculture industry has always been at the mercy of Mother Nature and commodity prices.

But beef prices have been high, the crops have been good in southern Alberta and no matter what the economy is like people still need to eat, said Lewington.

The area is home to Maple Leaf Pork, Richardson’s canola-crushing facility, Frito Lay’s snacks plant and Cavendish Farms, producer of frozen potato products — all major employers in southern Alberta.

Nearby Taber, Alta., produces sought-after table corn in the fall, sugar beets are a big crop and cattle ranches dot the countryside.

Lewington said there is also an emerging information and technology sector that, although small, offers opportunity for future employment growth.

But agriculture, which brings about $1 billion to the area each year, that’s the economic power behind Lethbridge’s boom, Lewington said.

“Sixty per cent of Canada’s beef industry is in this region … We’ve got a pretty big cluster of agri-food and agricultural-related industries.”

The employment rate for southern Alberta is 5.8 per cent, which is well below the province’s January jobless rate of 7.4 per cent.

Lethbridge’s mayor said the unemployment rate in his city is more like four per cent and, although there have been some job losses due to low oil prices, things are pretty good.

“People are being laid off in Lethbridge who work in the oil sector,” said Chris Spearman. “We’ve had people who live in Lethbridge who got flown to Fort McMurray on a regular basis to do shifts up there, so those people would be effected.

“We’re not immune.”

Because there’s never been the benefit of oil and gas development, the goal is to attract even more agri-related businesses to a region, Spearman said.

“In the long term, agriculture is going to be the industry to be in, because the number of people growing food for the world population is diminishing. If your expertise is agri-business, you’re going to have a very bright future.”

Just Posted

Red Deer fire station up for sale

Home sweet home at Fire Station 4

Most surveyed Innisfail residents give urban chickens the thumbs up

Town of Innisfail will discuss whether to allow backyard chickens on Monday

Second attempted ATM theft at Red Deer IGA

Anyone with information is asked to contact RCMP

City businesses must have licences

Businesses can apply through new system online called MyLicence

WATCH: Two weeks away from Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer

In just two weeks, Ponoka’s Shayna Weir will compete with the best… Continue reading

Hi Mickey, ‘Bye Mickey: 6 Disney parks on 2 coasts in 1 day

ORLANDO, Fla. — Heather and Clark Ensminger breathed sighs of relief when… Continue reading

Court weighs ‘Apprentice’ hopeful’s suit versus Trump

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s lawyers hope to persuade an appeals… Continue reading

StarKist admits fixing tuna prices, faces $100 million fine

SAN FRANCISCO — StarKist Co. agreed to plead guilty to a felony… Continue reading

Annual pace of inflation slows to 2.2 per cent in September: Statistics Canada

OTTAWA — The annual pace of inflation slowed more than expected in… Continue reading

Jury finds Calgary couple guilty in 2013 death of toddler son

CALGARY — A jury has convicted a Calgary couple in the death… Continue reading

Study of U.S. hospital figures links pot use with increased risk of stroke

MONTREAL — New research is being presented at a conference in Montreal… Continue reading

Leon Draisaitl has overtime winner as Edmonton Oilers down Boston Bruins 3-2

EDMONTON — Connor McDavid set up Leon Draisaitl for the overtime winner… Continue reading

Edmonton girl guide sells out of cookies in front of cannabis store on first day

EDMONTON — She’s being called one smart cookie. As people lined up… Continue reading

Most Read