A few years ago, Howard Leffers and his brother decided to change the purpose of his farm to grow all organic produce. It’s a trend that’s becoming much more noticeable in Alberta as demand for certified organics grows. Though a little more labour intensive that conventional farming, many in Alberta’s agricultural industry are meeting the challenge. Mark Benson is the general manager of Harvest Haven, a farm that produces a vast array of organic products. “Organic farmers that are converting from conventional to organic, that’s what attracts them is that farming becomes such an interesting mix of challenge,” says Benson. “Understanding microbiology, understanding the ecosystem, understanding crop rotation, balance and disease control. And realizing that it’s entirely possible to do it by natural means and not only to just barely accomplish it but to excel.”
Alberta has seen a significant increase in organic operations in the past decade compared to other provinces. In 2012, the province saw 416 million dollars in organic food sales. It is second only to British Columbia in the organic fruit market share, and second only to Ontario in pre-packaged groceries.
With an increased demand for organic produce, research is now being done to find non-conventional ways of growing naturally. Aquaponics is a process that uses waste from farmed fish to supply nutrients for plants growing hydroponically above it. Charlie Shultz is an aquaponics researcher at Lethbridge College and knows that although it doesn’t fit the criteria of being certified organic now, it’s just a matter of time. “What that takes is some change, or some addition to the rules,” says Shultz. “I’m working with groups like Organic Alberta right now that have shown interest and their growers want to use aquaponics to produce a certified organic crop.”
With the demand for organic foods still increasing and the research in place, the future is looking bright for organics in Alberta.