The agriculture industry is important to any economy, and Parkland County is proud to recognize—and champion—its impact.
“Parkland County’s commitment to ensuring the long-term viability of the agricultural industry, along with its economic, environmental, and community contributions, is important to sustaining the area’s strong rural economy and vibrant lifestyle,” explains Trevor Anderson, rural business development officer, Parkland County.
Currently, Parkland County is home to 679 farms on 375,449 acres, which represents approximately 65 per cent of all County land. Anderson says, “The agriculture sector generates over $50 million annually and contributes equipment and materials to the local economy, including combines, trucks, fertilizers, and seed. The County is a major producer of wheat, barley, oats, and canola, in addition to major livestock operations, greenhouses, and nurseries. The 2016 Census reports 20 farms in Parkland County with commercial vegetable production, 24 with nursery and sod production, and 16 with fruits and berries. There has been some expansion within the County of these very high value crops.”
“Parkland County is well located to attract and support new business growth in the agriculture industry,” Anderson adds. “The proximity of Parkland County to a metropolitan area of more than 1 million consumers and the availability of local inputs presents a significant opportunity for this intensive form of agriculture to continue to expand. New business development in Parkland County will supply interest in local food, as well as align with the Government of Alberta’s goal to grow the food processing sector.
“In 2016, Alberta’s value-added sector, including food and processing manufacturing sales, was worth $14.6 billion and was the largest manufacturing employer in the province, representing more than 22,400 jobs.
“Parkland County strives to enhance and provide opportunities for agricultural diversification and enhancement into the future. Part of broadening opportunities in agriculture is ensuring the ability to use agricultural property for more than traditional agricultural activities. Value-added pursuits help ensure the viability and profitability of agricultural operations, fostering rural entrepreneur development that could include agriculture commodity processing: crushing, milling, malting, drying, packing, processing etc.; other food innovation such as food products, health products, supplements, etc.; on-site sales, stores, restaurants, agri-tourism, or other supportive activities.”
Anderson continues, “In 2017, Parkland County created a new land use district (AGI – Agricultural Industry Development District) that accommodates development in rural Parkland County, specializing in value-added agricultural and alternative energy production. Parkland County’s rural and rural fringe areas are uniquely capable of providing such amenities for the various value-added agriculture and alternative energy industries.
“The purpose of this district is to accommodate new agricultural-based and alternative energy-based development that manufactures or processes value-added agricultural products, produces or imports materials or grows biomass crop for use in alternative energy feed stocks or products, or generates alternative energy. Companies such as Pinnacle Renewable Energy in Entwistle have quickly recognized the flexibility this new land use provides.”
Of course, the success of Parkland County’s agriculture industry hasn’t come without its challenges.
Anderson explains. “The industry has experienced several trend shifts, including an increased global demand for food, an increased demand for growing local food, the growth of average farm sizes, an increase in vegetable farming (indoor and outdoor), an increase in nurseries and greenhouses, and an increase in specialty livestock. Despite the increase in demand, there has been a 13.2 per cent reduction in the number of farms since 2011, and a total 43.3 per cent reduction in the number of farms over the past 20 years mainly due to the rise of large-scale farms.
“The continuing growth of large-scale commercial farms in response to global forces that demand cost competitiveness and the ability to compete with world prices means small- to medium-sized family farms are reducing. Over the past 20 years, the average farm size in Parkland County has increased by 36.9 per cent versus an Alberta average of 40.4 per cent. During the last five years, the increases have been in the order of 7.6 per cent for Parkland and 5.9 per cent provincially. Parkland County is part of the overall provincial trend to fewer but larger farms.”
However, while trend shifts have forced the agriculture industry to adapt and innovate to meet and support its developing sectors in a way that has the potential to introduce new opportunities for the industry, there is one challenge that poses a bit more difficulty: the decline of farmland. “It is important to have a balance between development lands and protecting valuable agricultural land. Parkland County’s recently updated Municipal Development Plan defines the areas where different development types can occur, and which are protected as prime agricultural lands,” says Anderson.
“In spite of the decline in the farmland base,” Anderson is quick to point out, “the economic size of the agriculture sector in the County is actually growing. Gross farm receipts have increased by 49.0 per cent during the 1996 – 2016 period. An assessment of the inflation rate over the same 20-year period indicates a compounded rate of 43.1 per cent. Thus, the actual growth over this period is + 5.9 per cent. Incredibly, this growth has occurred despite a 22.2 per cent reduction in the farmland base in the County. Despite the reduction in the land base, the County’s net farm income, after equalizing for inflation, has actually increased by 55.6 per cent since 1996. The size of the agriculture industry as an economic entity in the County is at least sustaining itself, and probably growing, not to mention the fact that gross farm sales are at the highest in the region (+75 per cent).”
What do some of the voices from within the industry have to say about its success?
Seba Beach Farmer’s Market is quick to praise to the County. “The agricultural industry is successful because there is a strong support system in place from both Government Agencies and Parkland County in promoting local foods and products. The agriculture industry in Parkland Country is rapidly growing, and the new trends in our society of bringing locally grown and farm fresh products to the table has made Farmers Markets a huge player.”
“The agriculture industry is important to Parkland County as an economic driver,” agree Rhonda and Sheldon Bignell, owners/managers of Hawkstone Stable, “but it also helps us retain the rural lifestyle that is important to our Alberta culture.”
Alicia Howery, co founder of Strawberry Fields, points out that “The Edmonton Region is lucky to have great quality soils and a favourable climate to grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. I am so glad to be a farmer in today’s world because of the resurgence in the desire to buy local. I also feel a great deal of support from the local farming community. Fellow producers in Parkland County and across the province want to see each other succeed. The willingness for other producers in our area to lend a hand and share knowledge is invaluable. We are a community that truly supports our neighbours and I feel that lends itself to the success of the agricultural industry in Parkland County.”