Original Published on Aug 02, 2022 at 08:15

By Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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 grant 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.

This item reprinted with permission from the Herald, Lethbridge, Alberta