Time to show a vision for agriculture policy…well at least we can hope

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Ahead of the Heard

Recent political events would be a good opportunity for both the Progressive Conservative (PC) and Wildrose Alliance (WA) parties to present some ideas about an agriculture policy for Alberta. The PC party is holding a number of leadership candidates meetings across the province, many of them in regional centres outside of the two big cities. The WA party will be holding a convention at which they plan to establish their policy on agriculture. Unfortunately I don’t hold a lot of hope that any of these political events will see any unique ideas or a vision for agriculture in this province.

You can expect the usual platitudes about supporting the family farm and the usual ideological sentiments about free trade, new markets, more research and less regulations. None of that is all that inspiring and displays a lack of foresight and vision by our politicians, most of whom don’t know a doorknob from a heifer. The only thing that might be missing from the usual political rhetoric is that perennial whipping boy – the Canadian Wheat Board – being the feds are going to eliminate the board by this time next year.

Since we can’t expect political parties to come up with any new ideas, here are some concepts that they could consider – just don’t hold your breath to see any of them adopted by anyone anytime soon.

Begin an immediate investigation in the ways and means to financially compensate farmers, ranchers and landowners for the  environmental services they provide in conserving land, maintaining wildlife habitat, improving riparian areas, providing carbon sinks, and being custodians of the rural culture for tourism purposes.

Supply managed commodities (eggs, dairy, poultry) are the most successful, stable and profitable sectors of the agriculture industry. Steps need to be taken to include other commodities in supply management beginning with pork production to save them from being wiped out. Forty years ago there were 3,500 hog producers in Alberta, at last count there are now less than 300 left, most of them colonies. The endless subsidization of a number of commodities needs to be addressed, supply management has proven to be a successful marketing approach to end subsidization.

Initiate a formal third party analysis of the wind farm business in Alberta. The truth needs to be established as to the subsidies, grants, tariff incentives, export of discounted wind power to BC, cost of backup power, aerial wildlife losses, etc.. It is anticipated that an additional 80,000 acres of land will be covered with windmills, which data shows only produce 30 per cent of the time. What is the relationship between selling wind power to California and the construction of unneeded transmission towers in Alberta. All of this has become another big land use issue in rural Alberta. The issue begs to be honestly investigated for the sake of taxpayers and electricity consumers.

Support the construction of regional industrial scale bio-digesters starting in the Lethbridge area to deal with the mountains of organic waste from massive feedlots and food processing plants. This would be an eco-friendly way to deal with agricultural and organic city waste and would produce electricity, minerals and fertilizers. It’s already being done in Europe. Canada always seems to be 10 years behind them in waste management technology.

Initiate a new master plan for a long term vision of irrigation in southern Alberta – which is already the most successful in Canada. Reward irrigators with more incentives to improve efficiencies, and have government invest even more in infrastructure to replace even more canals with pipelines. One hundred and twenty years ago a vision was created to use irrigation to spearhead the development of southern Alberta, wouldn’t it be nice to see that development doubled and see additional billions in returns for another 120 years.

Lastly will some politician or some political party have the courage, better yet the real guts, to support the mandatory use of irradiation (it’s not radioactive) for food safety. It’s a safe, proven 60 year old process that could significantly reduce deaths and sickness from such food-borne pathogens as E.coli, salmonella, listeria.

Adopting even a few of the above ideas might give rural voters a reason to vote for a political vision rather than just by habit or not at all.

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