By Trevor Busch
As part of a major federal investment announced recently for southern Alberta through Prairies Economic Development Canada (PrairiesCan), the Alberta Sugar Beet Growers (ASBG) have received nearly a quarter of a million dollars to evaluate new market opportunities for sugar production.
Through the federal government’s Regional Innovations Ecosystems (RIE) program, the ASBG received $242,838 for their marketing initiative in January. The RIE program stream aims to create, grow and nurture inclusive regional ecosystems that support business needs throughout the innovation continuum, and foster an entrepreneurial environment conducive to innovation, growth and competitiveness.
“We’ve always wanted to see the ability to grow and develop the sugar market,” said Melody Garner-Skiba, ASBG executive director. “Our growers have always wanted to grow more sugar beets. And we’re currently limited in our ability to do that just because of our production capacity. So we’re looking at alternative uses for sugar beets and there are hundreds of different uses. And our goal with this project is to develop a feed stock using sugar beets – and they can be used for alternative uses, they cover everything from biofuels, bioplastics, road de-icer, renewable fuel cells, pretty much anything it could be utilized for that is not refined sugar.”
Garner-Skiba explained that without this and other funding support, it would be difficult for the ASBG to get marketing projects like this one off the ground.
“We’re really appreciative of this funding. And we must also note that we received funding from RDAR, the Results Driven Agricultural Research program. We would not be able to do this project – I’m sure we’d be dead in the water if we wouldn’t have been able to receive this grant funding. So I think the opportunities that are coming from it… as we look at the economics of it, and business models, it has just really given us the ability to develop, analyze a business case on whether or not a juice plant could go ahead in southern Alberta. There’s huge opportunity for our farm families to look at potentially expanding their production of sugar beets and provide additional stability for the sugar industry by adding another value-added processor for us.”
The industry does its best to dispel misinformation that circulates about Canadian sugar production, says Garner-Skiba.
“Our growers have an amazing story to tell… we’re verified sustainable. We’re Canadian. We adhere to good economic and environmental principles. In regards to the stigma, not a big deal because these producers are top-notch producers that are doing everything they can in a really ethical and sustainable way.”
Garner-Skiba sees a bright future ahead for the industry in southern Alberta if government and industry can work together to maintain sustainability.
“I think it’s really important that people understand that… southern Alberta is home to the only place left in Canada that is 100 per cent Canadian sugar production, especially in light of the pandemic supply chain issues. We need to encourage domestic production. We should be very proud of the fact that we are able to grow the sweet crop and provide Canadians with that source of 100 per cent Canadian sugar and we need to make sure that government policies and the industry work hard together to keep the sugar industry here. Not only going but growing.”