A Foundation for the Future

April 2, 2013

 

Agri-Business Forward recently sat down with Hon. Verlyn Olson, Alberta's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, to discuss the impact of Growing Forward over the last five years and his expectations for Growing Forward 2.

 

Many veterans of Alberta's agriculture industry will tell you, the industry’s economic prospects have seldom looked better than they do right now.

 

To Verlyn Olson, now approaching his one-year anniversary as Alberta's Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, it’s in times like these that the province can and must invest strategically in the future.

 

"When you look at the current business outlook for our industry, some sectors have certainly faced significant difficulties, but overall you see a real picture of strength,” he says. “This gives us a bit of room, I believe, to look down the road and focus on new ways to make the industry even stronger for the coming years."

 

Since 2008, the federal-provincial-territorial Growing Forward initiative has helped Alberta producers and processors prepare their businesses for a successful future. Many have participated in Growing Forward programs designed to increase business competitiveness, strengthen business management, reduce environmental impact and improve food safety performance.

 

When the Minister assumed his post in May 2012, the impact of Growing Forward was already evident.

 

"Just look at an area like our Business Risk Management programs, and how Alberta was the first province to develop programs of this nature," Olson says. "We also led the way in areas like livestock identification, automation and lean manufacturing processes. Those priority areas were clearly helped by Growing Forward."

 

Industry consultations since 2010

Alberta’s position on Growing Forward 2 is the product of a three-year process of listening to the views of individual producers, producer groups and agribusiness.

 

In 2012, the Minister hosted stakeholder information sessions in both July and November. This past July, 94 participants from 48 organizations took part in sessions focused mainly on federal budget impacts to Business Risk Management programs. The November sessions sought input from these stakeholders on what Growing Forward 2’s strategic initiatives (suite of programs) should look like.

 

These discussions have determined that producers and other stakeholders want Growing Forward 2 to support stability for the agriculture sector, while enabling the growth of a strong, vibrant industry for the future.

 

“When I became Minister, I very quickly got a strong impression of agriculture in Alberta being a highly complex, science-based, global industry,” says Olson. “I believe, and we heard loud and clear throughout these consultations, that for us to be competitive and take advantage of opportunity, we must support research and innovation."

 

2013-18: stability, innovation, growth

With the original five-year Growing Forward agreement set to expire at the end of March, the Minister describes Alberta as being 98% of the way to a new agreement with the federal government on Growing Forward 2. He credits all stakeholders in Alberta's agriculture industry for coming together and expressing a shared set of priorities for the next five years, and thanks Ministry staff for representing Alberta well.

 

“For Growing Forward 2, we will be adjusting our focus to target the area of research and innovation more specifically,” Olson says, “while continuing to break new ground in having effective, responsive Business Risk Management programs.”

 

Many agricultural producers have posted robust business results in recent years, advancing what the Minister sees as one of the industry’s top priorities: attracting and retaining the younger generation.

 

To be sure, healthy commodity prices will go some way to helping this generational renewal. Olson also notes that in the coming years, fewer and fewer countries will be in a position to be net exporters of food. Canada is expected to be one of a handful of such countries, with Alberta playing a key role on the Canadian scene.

 

With a strong business climate in prospect, the Minister believes that Growing Forward 2 will make a major contribution to the industry’s success between now and 2018.

 

"This is an opportune time for us to think about the next generation of producers in the industry,” he says. "Growing Forward 2 can absolutely play a role, in terms of making us very competitive on a global scale, while reducing our environmental footprint and adding more value to what we produce. I hope that this is the legacy of Growing Forward 2 that we’ll be talking about in five years’ time."

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