By Will Verboven Ahead of the Heard
A recent study by the University of Alberta entitled “How Barley is expected to benefit from climate change” confirmed what many crop development observers had guessed for many years, that global warming (now known as climate change) is actually good for agriculture in Alberta.
Before, it was a mostly anecdotal and common-sense observation: a longer and warmer growing season with more CO2 in the atmosphere would expand the growing areas of traditional crops and also increase yields. It would move production of heat-loving crops like corn and soybeans further north in the province. The U of A study now proves those observations specifically with barley and its connection to the beef production. One would hope that our provincial government should take heart from this climate development and create a vision on how quickly Alberta can exploit new cereal, oilseed and beef production possibilities. I refer specifically to opening up more areas of central and northern Alberta to land clearing and crop development. Technology and expertise continues to increase in making land clearing more efficient and viable. We already have an increasing core of highly skilled growers and entrepreneurs who have been able to carve out large scale commercial grain and oilseed operations in the farming frontier areas of the North central part of the province. Given the opportunity to buy more and new land and with significant tax and development grants, growers could bring vast new acres into production as global warming continues.
The U of A report notes that increased barley production due to climate change isn’t confined to the north either. Because of more CO2 being available the report states that 10 to 60 per cent less water will be needed by barley and other plants. That’s great news for dryland farming areas across the province. More and cheaper barley is great news for the cattle feedlot sector in reducing their production costs. One would hope that Alberta Ag department planners would take this study and begin the process to develop policies that would encourage more crop production across the province. Alberta is in a unique position to do exactly that with land still available in the north and in irrigation areas. But unless this government has an ideological change of mind, all of this has faint hope. The basis for expanding production involves the provincial government selling large blocs of public land (Saskatchewan is doing just that – do they have a plan?) to new and existing producers. In tandem it would involve offering tax and development grants to get the process going quickly. It would seem the present government is all in favour of agricultural diversification and increased production but I expect its not prepared to do this if there is a hint of clashing with its present adherence to climate change progressive purity. One could also see a vicious negative response from anti-agriculture green lobby groups if the government was to take a great leap forward to sell and develop more public land for agricultural purposes. Some might remember the unrelenting pressure those groups put on the former Redford government to cancel the sale of public lands for an irrigated potato project. The project was cancelled to preserve habitat for a few birds – those would be the same birds that are killed off by the hundreds by neighbouring windmills – but I digress.
One notes the enthusiasm of the present government in saving the planet through carbon levies, emission restrictions and a host of new regulations that make agricultural production more difficult in Alberta. I suggest the government is displaying some hypocrisy in trying to champion ag diversification, as in my view it would not be prepared to offend its allies in the green lobby industry and its urban base by opening up new public lands to increase crop and livestock production.
History shows that ag production in Alberta will diversify and expand, but it will be slow and incremental as technology, genetics and agronomics improve. I would suggest that if significant ag diversification and expansion is to occur it will only come with a bigger land development vision. Climate change would underpin such expansion, but ironically and politically that issue along with other ideological blinkers would seem to paralyze and prevent this NDP government from even considering such a back to the future vision. I guess for at least the next couple of years the only government support for ag industry expansion will be restricted to expanding the consultations and meetings on the idea.