July 18, 2018 8:00 am

Metro Edmonton regional board to tackle agriculture preservation

Alberta Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier tweeted this photo taken in September 2016 near Medicine Hat, remembering a meeting with Hargrave: (left to right) Environment Minister Shannon Phillips, Carlier, Speaker of the House Bob Wanner, firefighter James Hargrave.

Oneil Carlier / Twitter

We’re about to see the payoff for Edmonton’s reduced land grab that was first proposed in the annexation of Leduc County. Mayors from the Edmonton Metropolitan Region Board have launched what is being called the Regional Agriculture Master Plan (RAMP) Task Force.

After it was agreed that Edmonton wouldn’t take as much land from the county as first proposed, it also became a priority to preserve that soil for growing.

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The 2017 agreement saw Edmonton annex almost 22,000 acres of land — about half of what Edmonton initially asked for when negations collapsed in 2013.

WATCH: Leduc County Coalition creates petition against annexation 

“We are richly blessed with assets,” said Jerry Bouma, of Toma & Bouma Consultants who are managing the RAMP project.

“Agriculture is a critical economic driver and it can be an even great contributor to the region’s success if it is treated as a priority area.”

READ MORE: Edmonton, Leduc County come to agreement on land annexation

The new growth plan will look at balancing the demands on the land base surrounding Metro Edmonton.

The acting CEO for EMRB, Neal Sarnecki, said the goal of the task force is to work with the agricultural community to protect that sector and give it a high profile.

“This was some of the best agricultural land in Canada and that’s why Edmonton located here in the first place,” he told Global News.

“We are going to be, in the not-too-distant future, one of few left remaining exporters of agricultural products in the world. The question is whether or not we want to continue to consume land for development.”

READ MORE: Alberta government commits $34.5M towards agricultural societies

“We’ve been oil and gas for so long but agriculture was here long before that, and to be honest, agriculture is going to be here long after that’s gone.

“So it’s important that we support that and continue to highlight and raise the profile of the ag industry in this region.”

Bouma and Sarnecki agree that eventually, we’ll see industry set up in Leduc County and its agricultural incubator to harvest profitable crops, then process what is grown, so that “value-added” products can be shipped world-wide.

Sarnecki said the work being done by the Airport Authority, Leduc County, the City of Leduc and the City of Edmonton on the development of the Alberta Aerotropolis project will lead to that outcome.

READ MORE: Coworking space dedicated to food, agriculture opens in Edmonton

“Absolutely, that’s one of the thrusts of the objectives of the plan,” he said of the project to promote industry in the immediate vicinity of the international airport.

Bouma said they’ll be playing the long game on this. He estimates that the region generates close to $900 million in farm-gate sales, and probably $4 billion in food-processing revenues.

“It’s not unreasonable, in the course of the next 10 to 15 years, to see that double.”

The RAMP project will carry on the work that the city has done since 2012 with its Fresh Urban Agricultural Strategy.

When the project wraps up two years from now, it will have a 50-year vision for agriculture.

The first steps will see a situational analysis completed this fall, then by the end of 2018, a draft vision with strategies to achieve the board’s goals.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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