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Province announces grants to further boost southern Alberta’s agriculture sector

Click to play video 'Province announces grants to further boost southern Alberta’s agriculture sector' Province announces grants to further boost southern Alberta’s agriculture sector
Southern Alberta's agriculture economy is set to receive yet another boost, as Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter made three separate announcements today. Taz Dhaliwal reports on how the government is investing in the region's irrigation, biogas and food industries.

A series of grants aimed at investing in southern Alberta’s agriculture industry were announced Monday.

Grant Hunter, Taber Warner MLA and Minister of Red Tape Reduction, said the first of three grants is slated for Raymond Irrigation, which will see a contribution of more than $270,000, from the province’s Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as part of the Irrigation Rehabilitation program (IRB).

According to a press release sent out by the minister’s office, the grant will ensure the Raymond Irrigation district can carry on improving water infrastructure which “provides water to agricultural operations, municipalities, recreational areas and wetland and upland wildlife habitats.”

Read more: Taber corn growers facing second-straight year of hail-related challenges

The release goes on to state IRP funds are usually used to replace open channel irrigation canals with buried underground pipelines which can reduce water loss through seepage and evaporation.

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The government says water that would otherwise be lost is then made available for purposes such as irrigation and other uses.

“Alberta grows some of the best food in the world and water is critical to our continued economic success as an agricultural powerhouse,” said Devin Dreeshen, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

“These grants through the Irrigation Rehabilitation Program are essential to allow Alberta Farmers to continue feeding the world,” Dreeshen added.

“We’ve got some fantastic agri-food companies here, but we want other agri-food companies to come here as well,” said Hunter.

Click to play video 'Alberta announces funding for Taber Irrigation District' Alberta announces funding for Taber Irrigation District
Alberta announces funding for Taber Irrigation District

“So, we have said boldly, that we will build that infrastructure needed, we will make sure that irrigation infrastructure is there,” he added.

Also on Monday, Hunter awarded the Lethbridge Biogas facility with a Canadian Agricultural Partnership grant of approximately $500,000.

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The grant is intended to help further diversify and innovate the company’s energy business.

Read more: New task force helping southern Alberta businesses through COVID-19

“That new equipment that will be paid for with that money is going to allow us to further upgrade our biogas into a product, which is called renewable natural gas, which has identical capabilities and you couldn’t distinguish it from natural gas,” said Stefan Michalski, the director of operations at the Lethbridge Biogas facility.

Michalski went on to say that the facility will then be injecting the natural gas into the pipelines, adding, with that process, utility companies will be able to decarbonize the natural gas grid, which is a part of further decarbonizing the energy sector.

“I always hear stories and conflicts between the traditional oil and gas and renewables,” Michalski said.

“We need a combination between the two, and to me, this [biogas] is one of the most perfect examples, because you have core strength in the gas here, it’s not oil, but it’s traditional energy that’s bridged with renewable energy, which is fueled by Alberta’s second largest industry: agriculture,” he said.
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High-tech agriculture cargo container looks to grow roots in Edmonton

The third and final grant of nearly $75,000 was given to the Farming Smarter non-profit organization in Lethbridge, which represents agriculture producers in Alberta.

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The government says as demand for food grows globally, it’s imperative to have an effective warning system for disease outbreaks to reduce food loss.

A quote issued by the minister’s office from Lewis Baarda, the field testing manager for Farming Smarter, reads in part:

“With the help of this grant, we are studying a new early warning system for crop disease outbreaks.

“We expect to provide farmers with better tools for evaluating risk and improve on-farm decisions that reduce crop inputs and costs.”

“If somebody comes up with an idea, Farming Smarter is that vehicle they could go to in order to get that funded, this is what we’re seeing with that investment there,” Hunter said.

He adds the provincial government is proactively recognizing southern Alberta as an “economic engine,” and says more funding announcements to create job opportunities in the region will be made in the following weeks.