Alberta is often characterized as an oil-rich province with beautiful golden prairies and panoramic mountain landscapes. But what many people miss is that it is also an agricultural powerhouse!
Farming in Alberta has been happening for well over a century. With its nutrient-rich soil, the province is now a leading producer of canola, wheat, dry peas, barley and cattle, and is expanding its food processing capabilities. Alberta's arable lands, extensive irrigation network and abundance of sunshine make it an ideal region to produce agricultural products of all sorts.
And with all that farmland comes enormous economic benefits. Today, more than 75,000 Albertans are employed by the agricultural sector, which also contributed nearly $9.7 billion to the provincial economy in 2020. Moreover, the industry isn't showing any signs of cooling off anytime soon either; agricultural labour demand in Alberta is expected to grow by 1.1 per cent each year between now and 2025, which is more than double the nationwide average of 0.5 per cent.
Albertan farmers are leaders in innovation and practice environmentally-friendly techniques that help to reduce disturbance to the land, wildlife and ecosystems. Much like the other natural resource sectors, Canadians should champion these hard-working farming families for their commitment to feeding us and the world while doing so in the most responsible ways possible.
From the Calgary Stampede to other festivals across the province, it's clear that Albertans take pride in their past, present and future ties to agriculture. Here are several facts on farming in Alberta that should bring you up to speed on just how important the sector is for local families and governments.
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30 Facts on Farming in Alberta
#1 - Agriculture is a crucial component of economic success in the province of Alberta, employing more than 75,000 Albertans. (Alberta Government - AG)
#2 - Alberta is home to 50.3 million acres of farmland (2016). (Statistics Canada)
#3 - Alberta's average farm size grew from 1,168 acres in 2011 to 1,237 acres in 2016. (Statistics Canada)
#4 - With 40,638 farms, Alberta has the second greatest number of farms in Canada following Ontario (2016). (Statistics Canada)
#5 - Alberta has one of the world's most productive agricultural sectors, and it stands as Canada's second-largest agricultural producer. (Alberta WaterPortal)
#6 - In 2020, Alberta's agricultural sector contributed $9.68 billion to the economy (or gross domestic product). (Invest Alberta)
#7 – Alberta's Agricultural exports totalled more than $12.4 billion in 2020, including $5.8 billion in primary agricultural products and $6.7 billion in value-added products. (Invest Alberta)
#8 – Farmers in Alberta export nearly 7 million tonnes of wheat each year to 70 countries around the world. (AG)
#9 - Alberta's top markets for agricultural exports are the United States, China, Japan, Mexico, and South Korea. (AG)
#10 - Alberta’s top five agri-food exports in 2020 were (AG):
• beef ($2.5 billion)
• wheat ($2.3 billion)
• canola seed ($1.7 billion)
• crude canola oil ($1 billion)
• live cattle ($689 million)
#11 - As of 2021, there were 494 milk-producing farms in Alberta. (Alberta Milk)
#12 - Alberta beef is world-famous because most is graded AA or higher, and our province's farmers take the extra steps to ensure quality. Alberta Beef Producers also set the standard globally for ethically raised and antibiotic-free beef. (Alberta Beef)
#13 - As of 2019, Alberta was home to 41 per cent of Canada's cows. (Alberta Beef)
#14 - Alberta has the highest average of head per cattle farm in Canada at 255 as of 2019. (Alberta Beef)
#15 - In 2021, Alberta was home to more than 170 egg farming families who produce more than 65 million dozen eggs every year. (Egg Farmers of Alberta)
#16 - As of 2016, there are 445 farms and ranches in Alberta with bison and over 54,000 across the province. (Canadian Bison Association)
#17 - Alberta's rich land, extensive days of sunshine, and large irrigation network make it an ideal place to farm. (Invest Alberta)
#18 - Alberta beekeepers account for 40 per cent of all the honeybee colonies in Canada. Additionally, honeybees added $497 million in gross economic benefits in Alberta through pollination. (Alberta Beekeepers Commission)
#19 - 20 per cent of Alberta's cleantech ventures are in the agriculture tech sector. (Foresight)
#20 - Agricultural labour demand in Alberta is expected to grow by 1.1 percent per year between now and 2025, compared to 0.5 percent nationwide. (AgriLMI)
#21 - Carbon sequestration is a significant benefit provided by farming in Alberta, as more than 39 per cent of the province's farmland is perennial forage that creates a carbon sink. (ARECA)
#22 - Big Marble is the largest greenhouse in Alberta. It can house over 300,000 cucumber plants, 60,000 tomato vines, and operates with 17,400 grow lights. (Big Marble)
#23 - Alberta has been a centre of research in the beef industry for decades. In 1955, Roy Berg, '50 BSc(Ag), challenged the belief that purebred cattle were superior to crossbreeds. This controversial idea is now a norm in the cattle industry. (University of Alberta)
#24 - Another example of innovation within Alberta's agriculture industry is Livestock Water Recycling. It is the world's leading provider of manure treatment technology. They work with farms worldwide to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, separate nutrients for fertilizer application, and recycle water. (Trade Commissioner of Canada)
#25 – Farmers in Alberta have adopted many practices that reduce their environmental and ecological impacts. An example is minimum-till farming, as more than half of farming in Alberta is performed using no-till practices. (AOTP)
#26 - The person often credited with being Alberta's first farmer is Peter Pond. (Calgary Stampede)
#27 - Women accounted for over 30 per cent of farm operators in Alberta in 2016, making the province the second-highest proportion of female operators in Canada. (Stats Canada)
#28 - Alberta has countless examples of agricultural innovation within the sector. For instance, GoodLeaf Farms is expected to open a 74,000 square-foot vertical farm in Calgary by the end of 2022 that plans to grow fresh lettuce year-round. (Producer)
#29 - Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR) has made a 10-year, $370 million deal with the Alberta government. This capital will go towards research regarding enhanced productivity, profitability and competitiveness, sustainable and responsible agriculture, food safety, diversification, and more. (AG)
#30 – Alberta is home to Agri-Trade Equipment Exposition, Western Canada's largest indoor/outdoor agriculture exhibition (Agri-Trade Equipment Expo)
Sustainable Farming in Alberta
Canada's place as a top-five exporter of agricultural products globally means that we have an essential responsibility to produce these goods as sustainably as possible, especially in a world ever-increasingly focussed on environmental outcomes.
Today, the Alberta Government has several programs to help farmers with sustainability efforts and environmental protection. One of those includes the Environmentally Sustainable Agriculture Tracking Survey (ESATS), a farm-level survey that helps track the adoptions of such practices.
Canadians should be proud of our farmers who are always looking for innovative ways to reduce their environmental footprints while feeding us and the world!
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