Long before there was oil and gas, Albertans worked the land providing for their families and communities. Although it seems most consumers today hardly think about where their food comes from, the agriculture industry continues to be the backbone of our provincial economy. According to a report from Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, while the majority of Alberta’s major industries had lower output (as measured by GDP) in 2016, agriculture reported positive economic growth, increasing 7.8 per cent to a record $6.6 billion.
With almost every piece of news stemming from the province somehow related to oil, gas, power and pipelines, it is hard to find even a small media item on agriculture. While most of us were reading about the latest pipeline delay or bickering between interest groups, farmers were literally hanging by a vine in their fields with an early snowfall disrupting harvesting across the province.
For a while things looked bleak: the snow could remain for months or the entire winter putting a whole season of growing literally down the drain. Luckily the snow began to melt, and through a true entrepreneurial spirit and no-holds-barred attitude, Alberta farmers were once again able to get the job done. In a matter of a week, farms went from having almost all the crops on the field to having almost all the crops off to harvest. Farmers and ranchers have learned how to fight through adversity, putting food on our tables not only in Alberta but around the world.
Without the glamour of other industries, agriculture is becoming Alberta’s forgotten resource. As long as food is on the table, most of us are happy and give it little more thought. I refer to a quote from Brenda Schoepp, “My grandfather used to say, ‘Once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman and a preacher, but every day – three times a day – you need a farmer.’”
As a portion of GDP, agriculture can take some wild swings based on the year but it has always been stable enough to feed our populace. After all, where would we be without Alberta beef? What would be filling our root cellars and grain elevators without our summer crops? One of our most important resources may not be in the ground but instead working it from the top.
While the media continues to focus on the oil industry and as we continue to dig ourselves out of this recession, it is important to plan for the future and put the right implements in place to survive the next one. Farmers and ranchers have overcome a lot in recent years with changes to labour legislation laws and getting their product to market based on rail constraints, not to mention the proverbial problem of weather which came into play this fall. As we sit down to enjoy our next meal and a drink – produced right here in our own backyard – let us all tip our hats to the farmers and ranchers who will continue to be this province’s backbone moving forward.