While the oilpatch is Alberta’s trademark, a big part of the province’s future prosperity lies on its family farms, says Red Deer County’s mayor.
“Agriculture has one of the best and brightest futures we have,” said Jim Wood, who farms and raises cattle near Delburne.
Low oil and natural gas prices, combined with market access challenges, have taken a lot of steam out of Alberta’s money-maker industry over the past few years.
But agriculture is the No. 2 industry and Wood sees plenty of room for growth with the right encouragement.
“I think one of the key things we want to make sure we keep successful is the family farm,” said Wood on Tuesday.
Many communities revolve around the nearby family farms, and it is important that there is a smooth transition from today’s producers to a new generation of farmers, he said.
Part of that involves ensuring financing is available for those taking over farms and that the transfer of property to the next generation is not hampered by tax policies.
Wood would like to see more investment in the industry to allow a bigger share of farmers’ production to be processed and turned into value-added goods.
“It’s sad that we send a lot of our products away to foreign countries to be further processed. It would make more sense to process those products here.
“Especially at a time when shipping is so expensive, I think that is one way we could really help.”
Canola is one example. While there are canola crushers in Camrose and Fort Saskatchewan, among other places, much of it is exported elsewhere to be processed.
“Why are we shipping raw canola to China, when it all could stay here?” he said.
Another benefit of keeping production closer to farmers is it reduces the financial impact of trade disputes because there is always a market for finished products.
Processing at home also saves on transportation costs and creates jobs, he said.
“There’s no reason we can’t have more manufacturing in this province, especially manufacturing of agricultural goods.”
A lot of the equipment used today was dreamed up by farmers tinkering in their shops during the winter months, looking to build the better mouse trap, said Wood.
That’s one of the reasons the county has a place for home-based businesses in its land use regulations, he said. What starts out in a garage could one day grow into a shop and a steady employer.
Many farmers would also benefit from having better access to agricultural expertise, he said.
There was a time when farming communities could count on local agriculturists based out of district offices for advice. Over the decades, those largely disappeared, and a farmer’s only contact with a crop specialist or other expert is often by phone.
“We’ve lost a lot of help that we once had, as far as knowledge goes.
“Farming is a business that has very low (profit) margins. And sometimes, you just need that little bit of expertise.”