A major concentration of irrigation and food production in southern Alberta is one example of why the provincial government was wise to put a six-month pause on renewable energy projects, according to the director of a landowner advocacy group.
Called “Canada’s Premier Food Corridor” (CPFC), the stretch of land along Highway 3 in southern Alberta is home to some of the country’s biggest agri-food ventures, including a recently announced $600-million expansion to McCain Foods potato processing facility in Coaldale—the largest single expansion in company history.
The majority of Alberta’s irrigated farmland is also along the agri-food corridor, and there are plans to add over 200,000 more acres of irrigated land to the roughly 900,000 acres already in production, as well as long-term plans to twin Highway 3.
It all adds up to a lot of money. According to the CPFC, the corridor produces some $8 billion of gross domestic product annually, and people in the region hope that number will grow.
Daryl Bennett of Taber, Alberta, believes it’s a prime example of why the renewable energy project moratorium was a good idea.
“They are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand irrigation by 230,000 acres,” he told The Epoch Times. “So we have a lot of public money going into expanding the [Highway 3] corridor and expand the irrigation acres,” said Mr. Bennett, director of Action Surface Rights.
But there are also companies looking at the area for renewable energy projects, he said, which would take top-quality farmland out of production.
“Why put it on the best agricultural land when there’s lots of land that’s less productive that would be great for wind and solar?” Mr. Bennett asked.
However, he said it is tempting for landowners to say yes to proposals for wind or solar when the rates being offered are significantly higher than what they’d probably get from farming.
“When someone comes to you and says, ‘Hey, I’ll give you $1,500 an acre every year to put solar on,’ it’s really hard to say no,” Mr. Bennett said.
The Alberta government is tight-lipped on whether concerns about Canada’s Premier Food Corridor played any role in the decision to bring in the moratorium.
“Understanding the impacts of the rapid expansion of renewable projects on Alberta’s agricultural land are among the many issues that the Alberta Utilities Commission will be examining during the inquiry,” said a brief statement from the office of the minister of Affordability and Utilities.
Regardless of whether the region was one of the factors, its economic impact is undeniable.
According to Trevor Lewington, CEO of Economic Development Lethbridge, there are dozens of companies, large and small, that have set up shop in the corridor, from McCain Foods and Frito Lay to smaller specialty companies.
“Frito Lay has a potato chip plant in Taber, for example,” he told The Epoch Times. “Whole Leaf has a lettuce greenhouse here that’s highly automated, and they actually serve all the Wendy’s restaurants in Canada from here.”
“So, there’s some of the big iconic [names] that you would recognize from anywhere,” he said. But then there are smaller companies, such as Sakai Spice of Lethbridge.
“They take mustard, process it into wasabi, and export it entirely to Japan,” said Mr. Lewington.
He said it’s a relatively compact area with a high amount of agricultural production, with 65 different crops grown in the area and 60 percent of the beef cattle in the country.
“There’s about 4.2 million acres across 4,470 farms. So we know it’s very, very dense,” said Mr. Lewington, with good transportation links by road, rail, and air.
“Our tagline is if you’re in the business of food, you should be here, because this is the place where you want to grow your business,” he said.
The mayor of the town of Taber believes it is certainly one of the country’s top-producing agricultural areas—and maybe the top. Andrew Prokop said he does not know of anything similar.
“It’s literally a huge boon for the whole economy in southern Alberta,” Mr. Prokop told The Epoch Times.
“There’s so many things that are able to be grown here, and in great capacity. It’s really the best of all worlds,” Mr. Prokop said, adding the planned expansion in irrigation will help even more.
“It’s kind of a long-term project … it’s basically designed for generations to come,” he said. “It’s a really exciting time.”
Mr. Lewington has similar thoughts.
“There’s the potential to do more,” he said. “We have the talent, we’ve got the sun … we got the energy, so it really comes down to the available land, which we’re working on, and of course water.”
“It’s already a very dynamic ecosystem with lots of big companies here,” he added. “It creates a lot of employment, and the focus is on how we responsibly and sustainably grow more of that.”