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This past year has been a tough one due to COVID-19. While we’re still dealing with the impacts of the pandemic, I’m proud of how resilient the hard-working men and women in Alberta’s agriculture and forest sectors have been by adapting to not only survive, but thrive.
The agriculture and forestry sectors have been bright spots in Alberta’s economy throughout the pandemic. Whether it’s foresters, farmers or food processors, we’re looking for them to help lead economic growth in Alberta.
Early on, we knew that the health measures we took to bend the COVID-19 curve would have serious impacts on people’s jobs and their businesses. Vaccines offer some hope of a return to normal, but ongoing delivery delays from the federal government means reasonable public health restrictions must remain in place.
With consecutive high deficits, Budget 2021 is an opportunity to be smarter about how we’re spending taxpayer dollars. We’re strategically directing $841 million to deliver on a new vision for Agriculture and Forestry – one that ensures theses industries can grow and continue to be key economic drivers and job creators in Alberta.
In a big win for farmers, we’ve reduced AgriInsurance premiums by 20% this year, roughly $55 million in savings, to help ease the financial burden on producers. Starting in early spring, irrigation projects will be under construction as a result of the $815 million investment in irrigation – the largest one-time irrigation investment in Alberta’s history. There will be hundreds of kilometers of new pipelines, expanded reservoirs, and 2 new reservoirs that will modernize irrigation district infrastructure. These projects will increase water storage capacity, irrigating more than 200,000 new acres and creating up to 8,000 jobs.
Budget 2021 focuses on attracting investment for value-added processing and diversification of agricultural products, broadening export opportunities, and expanding irrigation infrastructure.
Agriculture and Forestry has set a target to attract $1.4 billion in investment over the next 4 years, creating more than 2,000 jobs in emerging sectors like hemp, ag-technology, and food production of grain, oilseed, plant protein and livestock. Since announcing these targets in the fall, we’ve already achieved $527 million in new investment and created more than 981 new jobs.
We’re also doubling individual lending limits for farms and agriculture businesses from $15 million to $30 million and increasing the overall Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) borrowing limit from $2.8 billion to $3.6 billion to ensure primary producers, agribusinesses, and value-added food processors have reliable access to capital.
Raising Alberta’s profile as an attractive investment destination in global markets will increase provincial exports. We’ve doubled our international presence in key export markets, set aggressive growth targets of 8.5% per year for value-added exports and 7.5% for primary exports.
Budget 2021 also ensures we are prepared to respond to the upcoming wildfire season, using innovative solutions and new technology to make sure our monitoring, forecasting, detection and responses are efficient and effective. We consulted with communities affected by wildfire on how to improve our response. This budget introduces new technology to help Alberta Wildfire remain world-class and keep communities safe.
Changes made to the Forests Act and associated regulations will come into force this spring. These amendments will advance Alberta’s competitive forest sector by reducing red tape and securing reliable and consistent access to trees, through the Forest Jobs Action Plan, while growing our forests’ sustainability for current and future generations.
Despite a climate of fiscal restraint, Agriculture and Forestry is holding the line on several key programs and services including:
- maintaining agricultural research funding at $37 million
- continuing to fund access to utilities in rural Alberta at $4.3 million
- providing $11.5 million in funding to Alberta Agricultural Societies, while speeding up applications
- funding the fight against mountain pine beetle at $30 million annually, plus an additional $19 million from the federal government
Jobs and economic growth are important to Alberta families. Budget 2021 delivers hope for the future of traditional economic powerhouses – agriculture and forestry.
Devin Dreeshen served as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry from April 30, 2019 to November 5, 2021.