By Cal Braid
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation RJ Sigurdson issued a statement on Jan. 11 to assure agriculture producers that the government is preparing for the future.
“Irrigation is essential to farmers, ranchers, food processors and communities because it provides much-needed water and good jobs,” he said. “That’s why we have invested $933 million to expand and modernize irrigation in the province and why we provided $7 million to investigate the feasibility of a large-scale irrigation project in east-central Alberta.”
The specifics of that investment weren’t clear, but he acknowledged, “While we continue to pursue this vision of increased irrigation, a key issue remains with the lack of rain and snow. We need to do more with the water we have. I commend Alberta’s irrigation districts that have, over the past year, taken steps to manage water use.”
His commendation was a valid acknowledgement of the players in this region who manage the water and keep it moving directionally to where it’s needed: The Bow River and St. Mary River Irrigation Districts. Both provide manpower, brainpower and infrastructure to the area. In a tip of the hat to the agriculture community, Sigurdson said “Every day, without fail, Alberta’s hard-working farmers, ranchers and agri-food producers deliver food to our tables. Our long-term vision includes expanding and improving our irrigation system so producers can position the agriculture industry to lead the province’s economic growth and diversification.”
The overall content of Sigurdson’s statement was a bit of a rehash of what we already heard from the minister of environment and protected areas, Rebecca Schulz, in one of her recent letters. Nevertheless, it reinforced the belief that the Province isn’t shying away from the prospect of another tough, dry year. “The last three years have brought droughts and water shortages in various parts of the province, particularly southern Alberta,” Sigurdson said. “Most of the water we use to drink, grow crops, run our businesses and sustain our environment comes from the mountain snowpack as well as spring and summer rain. With El Niño bringing warmer winter temperatures and less precipitation, we know this brings the potential for continued drought conditions this upcoming growing season.”
Sigurdson said the government has established a ‘drought command team’, and has held meetings with communities, farmers, ranchers, businesses and others to prepare for potential ongoing drought conditions. He also gave some practical advice about risk management programs through Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC), such as the Moisture Deficiency Insurance (MDI). He called it the first line of defence for disaster situations such as drought. “By participating in these programs, producers can gain peace of mind and be better prepared for unexpected challenges. MDI offers insurance coverage on native, improved, bush or community pasture, and provided $326.5 million to producers facing dry conditions in 2023. Over the last few years, we have been working with the AFSC to improve the program, such as including extreme temperatures.”
He reminded producers that they can enrol for MDI until the last day of February.
“Farming and ranching can be stressful, and there are many factors that producers cannot control, including drought conditions. If you or someone you know is feeling the effects of stress on the farm, it is important to seek help and there are several resources available. AgKnow, the Alberta Farm Mental Health Network, connects farmers and their families to local service providers and resources designed for the agriculture industry.”