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Economy

Alberta producers feeling stress from China’s canola ban

WATCH ABOVE: Farmers are searching for other buyers after China banned exports of Canadian beef, pork and canola. As canola crops inch closer to harvest, there's fear over how much will be left in the bin. Sarah Komadina reports.

Canola crops in central Alberta are about halfway to harvest and the yields look to be faring well, but this isn’t necessarily good news as China continues its ban on Canadian canola.

According to Alberta Canola, 40 per cent of the province’s canola sales normally come from China, which is about a $3-billion industry.

READ MORE: Canada-China tensions: Why they began and what’s happened since

“We still have some crop in the bin we haven’t been able to move, with the issues with China,” Alberta Canola chair John Guelly said on Wednesday. “We have a big crop coming and it’s not like we can spread it across the province — we are certainly going to have some storage issues.”

“Elevators will be full and it’s going to be tough to find a home for it all, so it’s not a great situation,” Guelly said.

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“When farmers suffer, the rural communities suffer.”

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To support producers, the Alberta government held a barbecue at the legislature grounds on Wednesday. They wanted to highlight issues facing not just canola producers, but also Canadian beef and pork producers.

READ MORE: After China meat ban, Bibeau says ‘too early’ for producer compensation

Many were wearing “Alberta Pork” hats and “I love Alberta beef” aprons, and canola oil could be seen on tables as a centrepiece.

“It’s unfair that farmers have to bear the brunt of this if it’s a political issue,” said Devin Dreeshen, Alberta’s agriculture minister.

“[We want] Albertans to know that farmers are going through a difficult time, and so hopefully, when they go to the grocery store, they can find that made-in-Alberta beef, pork and canola products,” Dreeshen said.

READ MORE: China’s ban on Canadian meat will lead to ‘huge’ losses, industry says

“We very much appreciate when the government of Alberta, and Canada, show this kind of support for our industries — it reminds our citizens how important these trade issues are and how trade impacts our industry,” said Tom Lynch-Staunton, government and relations policy manager with Alberta Beef Producers. “In the beef industry, we export about 50 per cent of what we produce here.”

Premier Jason Kenney was in attendance and stressed the importance of expanding markets.

“The government of Alberta is so committed to diversifying our export markets,” he said. “We can’t allow ourselves to be overly dependent on one or two markets.”

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Dreeshen said that exports of canola to Pakistan are up 150 per cent from last year.

While this will help canola producers, it’s not enough to fill the void.

Guelly said he is hopeful that China will open the gates before harvest, but he feels that it’s unlikely and that relief could be a long time coming.