Top Agriculture Stories of the Year That Was

1. Cavendish Farms grand opening a great day for Southern Alberta potato industry

On Oct. 3 Cavendish Farms formally opened its new $430 million potato-processing plant in Lethbridge. The event was a moment of unquestioned optimism for the local agriculture industry as the Southern Alberta potato harvest neared. The event was attended by Irving family representatives Robert and James Irving. Premier Jason Kenney also stopped by, and other local special guests and farmers feted the occasion.

Photo by Ian Martens
James Irving, Premier Jason Kenney, Robert Irving and Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman cut the ribbon to offically open the new Cavendish Farms potato-processing plant in Lethbridge on Oct. 3.

2. After the Axe: Laying out what comes next for agricultural research in Alberta

When the Kenney government released its long-awaited and perhaps much-dreaded budget in October, many programs in the public service got their hair shaved by steep spending cuts, but government agricultural research took a $500 million dollar hit. The research cuts will likely have their real effects known in 2020 with layoffs, facility closures and the curtailment of many previously funded research projects.

The Kenney government signalled it wanted to shift research priorities over to farmer-led research conducted by organizations such as Farming Smarter, but provided few new dollars to enable this research in a substantial way— certainly not in any way which could realistically fill the gaps left behind by the shuttering of government-led research capabilities.

3. Ag Leaders face off in national

televised debate

Watching the Canadian Federation of Agriculture-sponsored National Agriculture Leaders Debate in Ottawa on Sept. 24 during the federal election was kind of like watching a train-wreck in slow motion. With urban Canadian concerns about social licence representing the train barrelling down the track toward Old Farmer John, representative of modern, science-based agriculture, as he desperately tries to pull his stubborn old milk-cow Lucy from the track— who is more intent on noshing on a crispy patch of timothy rather than obliging her master.

It would be almost funny, if it weren’t so deadly serious with a federal Liberal minority government largely based in urban Canada being supported by three other parties, also largely based in urban Canada, setting agricultural policy in the country for at least the next few years with one eye on climate change targets and the other looking fixedly at the Canadian beef industry in particular as an easy sell to urban voters who want to see firm action on greenhouse gas reductions.

4. Now is the Winter of Our Discontent: Lost year thanks to foul harvest season leaves many

farmers feeling down

With the loss of 50 per cent of the sugar beet harvest and 15 per cent of the potato crops, alongside other weather-related crop losses recorded throughout the growing year, Southern Alberta farmers, in particular, must have felt like their favourite dog just died while taking stock of the final butcher’s bill early in November. Gruesome, and a devastating end to what was early on a year of promise as the crops had grown well through the summer months.

5. Dam Fine Work: New $46M spillway should keep EID members safe from future floods

Three years of  intensive work, a massive multi-agency and multi-government effort, and tens of millions of dollars spent, the Bassano Dam finally received a second spillway, and local stakeholders received greater peace of mind after almost losing the dam to rising floodwaters in 2013.

Eastern Irrigation District manager of special projects Earl Wilson summed it up best when he said:

“It would have been a huge economic loss if something like that (spillway over-flood) happened, and it takes you a year or more to fix. I can’t even put a number to it. I have no idea what it would cost if you lost all the water in this region for a year or two. The bankruptcies to farms, and all the industries, would just be unthinkable.”

Bassano Dam spillway project brought some flood security to local stakeholders at a cost of about $45.5 milion. The project celebrated its completion with a special ceremony on Oct. 25.