Premier Jason Kenney was joined by other government officials on Friday for a substantial announcement for investment in the agriculture industry.
“Agriculture is the beating heart of Alberta’s economy and as global demand for agri-food products continues to grow, our producers and irrigation districts will be better positioned to meet that demand for generations to come,” Kenney said.
Through the $815 million, the province is working with eight different irrigation districts and the Canadian Infrastructure Bank to modernize irrigation infrastructure and increase water storage capacity throughout southern Alberta.
The eight irrigation districts participating in the investment include: Bow River Irrigation District, Eastern Irrigation District, Lethbridge Northern Irrigation District, Raymond Irrigation District, St. Mary River Irrigation District, Taber Irrigation District, United Irrigation District and Western Irrigation District.
“It’s a mix between 56 modernization projects, which essentially take open water canal systems and converting them into pipelines,” said Minister of Forestry and Agriculture Devin Dreeshen.
“That will be hundreds of new kilometres of pipelines being built in the province.”
Dreeshan adds four new off-stream reservoirs are also going to be built, which he says are expected to take about four years to complete.
These projects are expected to create around 8,000 direct, indirect and construction jobs throughout their lifespan.
Water efficiency is a major focus of the projects, with the goal of allowing more acres to be irrigated without using more water. The province estimates 200,000 acres of land will receive new irrigation, benefitting a large portion of farmers.
“These 200,000 acres were just dryland farming, and now converting them into irrigated acres, it allows in the crop rotation to grow specialty crop,” Dreeshan explained.
“It’s [good] for the farmers to be able to diversify their crops.”
The investments were made by several contributors, including the province — which is investing $244.5 million from its $10-billion infrastructure plan as part of Alberta’s Recovery Plan — as well as the eight participating districts, who are putting forward a total of $143-million, and also a loan from the Canada Infrastructure Bank.
The CIB’s $407.5-million contribution is a loan that will have to be repaid by the irrigation districts.
Gary Tokariuk, president of Alberta Sugar Beet Growers and director with the St. Mary River Irrigation District, says focusing on agricultural improvements will not only benefit farmers.
“Your high-value crops such as sugar beets, timothy, potatoes, dry beans, all require water, and the investment in that is going to see more processing facilities coming here to southern Alberta, and it just snowballs from there,” Tokariuk explains.
“The biggest thing with this announcement is it gives us water security for generations.”
The irrigation industry generates about $2.4 billion in annual labour income and supports about 56,000 jobs.