An Alberta farm group says it is looking for more provincial funding, with the industry facing tighter budgets and losing out on advancements.
Ken Coles, executive director of Farming Smarter in Lethbridge, says the industry has been doing its best to leverage support locally but with growing supply-and-demand the need for secure, efficient funding is a key factor in developing more innovation.
“We currently have a $2 million grantâ€¦but that’s coming to an end in March. We’ve been working diligently through these funding agencies with the provincial government to develop a good harmonized message for all the groups, because we’re all independent groups, but we work together collectively on various things and putting forward our best effort to convince the government that they should invest in what we’re doing” said Coles.
Feeling stuck without support, many farming groups here in Alberta are looking to the leadership race for the UCP while hoping the outcome will anoint a leader who understands the importance of Alberta’s agriculture industry and secure many groups with stable funding to continue operations.
“It’s great that the oil prices are up, but I think what we’ve learned is when oil prices go down, we need to diversify our economy. The work that we do in agriculture helps improve farms and improves farm businesses. It helps develop the industry; it creates jobs. It’s a great time to invest in something that’ll help stabilize our economy for the future,” said Coles.
Farming Smarter currently fills 12 full time positions in the industry along with 14 summer staffing jobs, working with colleges and universities across Western Canada to support the farming industry. But with more funding, more opportunities can open up for workers in the field along with being able to expand on research projects like irrigation. “We help facilitate innovation,” said Coles. “With all the efforts that we do, there’s a value that brings people together in the industry and helps share ideas. We make sure that we’re adapting to fluctuations. Right now, the global economy is crazy in the UK, affecting food prices, and fertilizer prices. And at the same time, we have federal policies that are coming in and saying we need to reduce fertilizer.”
Coles says with recent political circumstances, the time to invest in the Alberta agriculture industry is important to capitalize on spending less from imports and looking to our own province for resources and innovations.
Funding is important in the agricultural industry, with project funding allowing for collaboration through grants. But base funding and allocation for an organization’s commitment to funds and their timeframe helps with a stable flow to keep doors open and provide for maintenance of equipment.
“We need to attract and retain high quality people, because the industry is incredibly complicated. You need to have expertise in all different areas, and also, you need to be grounded and have a good relationship with farmers,” said Coles. “What we’re really in need of is flexible funding. Because we’re all regionally focused, what happens in southern Alberta, with irrigation, isn’t the same as what happens up north, it’s different worlds.”
Alberta is a province that offers a lot to the agricultural industry but the dependency of private industry grants cannot be the only way to progress the industry. Government funding shows a dedication to an industry crucial to Alberta’s economy with more freedom for industries to focus on the way farming is done rather than specific goals and projects.
“There’s a lot of parts of agriculture that get missed without solid public investment. I think that is one of the challenges, that is a dynamic industry, there are a lot of parts and pieces to it. In a sense, we’re losing our voice when it comes to competing with the likes of healthcare and education,” said Coles.
Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald