Kneehill County council approves ‘future of farming’ project

Kneehill County council approved a working group project that will gather input on what farming may look like in the municipality’s future. The resolution to approve the project was made at the April 9 regular meeting of council.

Councillors heard a presentation from Economic Development Officer Jenna Kester regarding the newly proposed Economic Outlook program, which Kester explained would recruit within Kneehill County to form working groups to explore and analyze different sectors of the local economy with the goal of gaining insight into the future.

She noted each sector of the economy would get its own working group and the first group would be agriculture.

“Kneehill County’s Economic Outlook series will focus on a number of initiatives with the purpose of identifying and discussing economic challenges, opportunities the region will face, how our residents can adapt to meet these changes and how Kneehill County’s council can support the future recommendations,” stated Kester in her report to council.

“The first initiative of these planned projects will focus on the future of agriculture in the region, and the necessary discussions and research needed to prepare.

“The first project will be split into two parts: grain and livestock.

“Other initiatives will be focused on at a later date, including tourism and the oil and gas industry.”

Staff noted the first project, agriculture, would also be referred to as phase 1, with Kester’s presentation also including a budget breakdown for it.

“We are looking forward to engaging with working groups and industry specialists for these projects,” Kester’s report stated. “We will be bringing together members from the community who are forward-thinking individuals with one goal in mind: to understand the current environment and to provide council with insight on the potential future of these sectors.”

Coun. Carrie Fobes stated she felt the oil and gas industry, as a major taxpayer in Kneehill County, deserved a seat at the table.

Kester responded each working group is proposed to focus on a single element of the economy and feature stakeholders from that industry, with the first group being agriculture; for that reason, producers owning land were chosen.

Reeve Ken King stated that he felt phase 1’s terms should note “active farming members” of Kneehill County’s community as opposed to those who own land but don’t farm.

County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen echoed Kester’s comments by saying when the first phase was drafted staff felt it should focus on agricultural producers in Kneehill County and while there are certainly other property owners and industries in the municipality, the project’s goal of looking into the future of agriculture should come from those in the agriculture community.

Haugen noted, however, possible future phases of this program, such as tourism and energy, would recruit from the proper industries.

King stuck to his guns and said he felt the clarification of “active producers” was important.

Coun. Wade Christie stated he wanted to see representation from Kneehill County’s younger generation of producers, hopefully 25 to 35 years of age.

Kester noted Kneehill County plans to use an application process to find participants for this project.

She added this type of project has been conducted in other municipalities with success.

Councillors spent some time discussing the $500 per event set aside in the budget for guest speakers; most felt this amount wasn’t enough to cover top speakers who have insight to share. Eventually they settled on $1,500 per event.

Staff also pointed out the Economic Outlook program is intended to be fluid and could possibly adapt to changing situations and feedback during the process.

Reeve King said he was keen to hear some new food for thought and hoped the county could plough new ground with this program.

“I hope what comes out of these isn’t something we already knew,” added King.

Coun. Fobes asked if the Kneehill County agriculture department was going to be involved in phase 1. Staff responded Economic Outlook was geared towards collecting input from the community, but the county agriculture department is considered a stakeholder.

The CAO noted that a phase 2 is planned for spring of 2025 and feedback on phase 1 could see some tweaks made to the program.

Coun. Debbie Penner pointed out that it’s important to remember some producers in Kneehill have both grain and cattle.

Councillors unanimously approved moving ahead with phase 1, agriculture, within the Economic Outlook program.

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, East Central Alberta Review